Tuesday, November 21, 2017

On being young, gay and angry

If the makers of God's Own Country had been looking for an alternate title for their movie, they could have stolen Mudbound, not that this British drama has anything to do with Mudbound's foray into racism and the American South. My suggestion involves the movie's commitment to stripping all traces of rural romanticism from the mud-splattered lives of sheep farmers in Yorkshire, England. Set in an atmosphere in which the birth and death of animals can be bloody, God's Own Country tells the story of a romance between Johnny (Josh O'Connor) and a Romanian migrant worker named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). Director Francis Lee makes his debut with a movie in which O'Connor's angry young man makes the transition from rough faceless sexual encounters to something more substantial. The supporting cast includes Ian Jones as Johnny's debilitated father and Gemma Jones as the young man's grandmother. Johnny isn't conflicted about being gay, but he seems to be caught in a more generalized form of rage that may have something to do with the mother who left the family and with the hardscrabble life that has become his lot in life. The movie belongs to O'Connor, so convincingly and off-putting sullen that when Johnny offers the hint of a smile, it seems misplaced on his otherwise brooding face. God's Own Country becomes memorable for its unrelenting naturalism and for its refusal to see hearts and flowers where only mud, animals, walled-off human emotions and rare moments of tenderness are able to survive. But survive they do.

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