Why God’s Own Country is the most important LGBTQ film of our generation.

In honour of Valentine’s Day, Hyde Park Picture House put on a special viewing of Francis Lee’s ‘God’s Own Country’. It is set in our very own Yorkshire Moors, where the earth is scoured raw by the elements and the perennial fog seems to permanently isolate this sombre canvas from the rest of the world.

Johnny (Josh O’Conner) is a disaffected youth burdened with the responsibility of running the farm under the ever-watchful eyes of his sick father and hard-mouthed grandmother. Johnny anesthetizes his anger and frustration with heavy drinking and aggressive and detached sex with strange men. What is clear from the beginning is that Johnny’s self-loathing does not stem from his homosexuality, as is often the case in LGBT films. This film is unconventional in the sense that Johnny is already aware and accepting of his homosexuality. The cause of his anguish is rather the prospect of his life spent indefinitely trapped on the farm, under the strict rule of his overbearing father.

Lee has an incredible eye for cinematography whether it be a single light from the farmhouse glaring steadfastly into the morning, or large panning shots of the grey landscape. The naturalist imagery further emphasises the bitterness of life on the farm.

The arrival of Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a mild mannered and fiercely handsome Romanian worker, unsettles Johnny and the film’s overall tone begins to soften. Initially Johnny is hostile towards Gheorghe, but a few stolen glances indicate a budding attraction. Their first sexual encounter is a dirty, hurried and explicit romp in the muck. But as Gheorghe caringly nurses the lambs, he also begins to gently alleviate Johnny’s agonising loneliness and the two quickly form a close relationship.

What the film lacks in explanatory dialogue, it has in beautifully shot silent exchanges between Johnny and Gheorghe, suggesting that sometimes the physicality of love surpasses the need for its articulation. The two men are far from alike – which is more relatable than ever in this post-Brexit world – but isolated together on the bleak moor their relationship is allowed to develop with surprising tenderness on both their parts.

This film is also unique in the sense that its uneven story arc progresses from miserable to hopeful – Johnny and Gheorghe eventually reunite and return to the farm together. Other LGBT films more high profile than this low-budget Sundance number; do not follow such a happy narrative. ‘Brokeback Mountain’, for instance, ends with Ennis’s devastating discovery that his former lover Jack is dead. ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ begins with love but ends with the relationship between Adèle and Emma slowly falling apart due to jealously and individual insecurities. Even the much deified ‘Call Me By Your Name’ ends with a scene more emotional than Jack finally letting go of Rose.

It appears to me that there is a persistent trend within LGBT films – no one is allowed their much deserved happy ending. While their stories are being given more screen time than ever before, they are more often than not candid portrayals of the heart-breaking nature of real life love. Similarly, while the LGBT films highlight the agonising side of love, straight romantic narratives typically end with a euphoric kiss in the rain. What is so refreshing about ‘God’s Own Country’ is that it is by no means a glossy and unrealistic portrayal of human emotions similar to classic Hollywood romances. It is filled with both bestial and human bodily fluids; this film is riddled with heart-breaking moments only then to be punctured by happiness and love.

Why must the failsafe queer narrative include heartbreak? Emotions, whether they are happy or sad, do not discriminate by sexuality. Why must we then discriminate for them? ‘God’s Own Country’ entertains the idea that LGBT films can end happily, and hopefully this sets precedence for future queer narratives.

Hattie Graham

Image credit: stanforddaily.com