With “Moonlight’s” landmark Best Picture win this past year, it has been exciting to watch the number and diversity of LGBTQ+ stories being told. We’ve had the coming of age drama “Beach Rats.” Foreign language film entry “BPM” takes an impassioned look at AIDS activism. Netflix took on the powerful story of activist Marsha P. Johnson in “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.” “Transparent” continues to be a force on TV. We’ve also got the upcoming prestige gay romance “Call Me By Your Name” coming out later in the year. What seems to be new in many of these films is the “gay romance” or “gay experience” no longer has to be tragic. This is what makes “God’s Own Country” both a refreshing new romance, but also a bit too slight.
The film takes the basic plot of “Brokeback Mountain” and moves it to a sheep farm in Yorkshire. Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) lives a dull, average life where he tends to his family’s farm by day and gets wasted and has casual sex with men by night. With his father’s (Ian Hart) health failing, his stepmother, Deidre (Gemma Jones) insists getting help on the farm. In comes Ghorghe (Alec Secareanu), a Romanian immigrant. The arrival of lambing season sends both Johnny and Ghorghe up on the mountain for an extended period of time. It’s here that the two form a romantic relationship that grows serious quickly.
Both O’Connor and Secareanu display great chemistry. It’s easy to see their connection and root for the relationship to succeed. O’Connor, in particular, sells his character’s arc from a miserable, repressed farmer to someone who wants to fight for his relationship. Secareanu, on the other hand, becomes the film’s “manic pixie dream farmhand.” On top of sharing some steamy scenes, his Ghorghe also displays a love of making pasta and talking about feelings. He’s perfect in the sense that the movie seems to fall in love with him right from the get-go.
For as sweet as the romance is, there isn’t much else to the film. The stakes of being gay in a small town seem intrinsically high. However, the film wisely never overplays this hand. However, the film never replaces this tension with another obstacle. The movie feels content with watching these two people date. It’s sweet, but not powerful enough to sustain an entire film. In that sense, the film feels rife with repeated beats. In the end, not much differentiates this from other romances, gay or straight.
Set in Yorkshire, the film goes to great lengths to sell the farming setting. Much like “Brokeback Mountain,” the slow, meditative scenes of secluded farm work are both beautiful and aptly serve as the setting for this pair’s sexual awakening. Writer-director Francis Lee, who won the World Cinema Directing Award at Sundance, equips himself especially well in this section of the film. However, this film also doubles down on the less glamorous aspects of farming. Notably, one scene more than a few sheep births in graphic detail. These scenes are all real and were shot on location without body doubles for the actors. It’s a commendable feat which allows the audience to fully understand the setting and the world these men inhabit.
With so many quality LGBTQ+ films coming out in the marketplace, where does “God’s Own Country” fit in? It’s incredibly refreshing to see a gay romance not revolve around societal pressures or tragedy. However, while the two lead actors share chemistry, the film has little else going for it. It’s a sweet romance but fails to include anything else that makes it exemplary. It’s great we are getting to a place where queer characters no longer have to be tragic or outcasts. However, let’s still make them interesting.