Streaming Releases: Intersecting Masculinities: God’s Own Country (2017) - Reviewed

Some movies defy simpler labels because the stories that they tell are too complex. God’s Own Country is one of those stories that doesn’t quite fit under its natural label of gay romance. This directorial debut by writer/director Francis Lee does tell a tale of gay love found in the midst of sheep husbandry, but it also explores contrasting types of masculinity.

Another easy label for this film would be to call it a British Brokeback Mountain, since some very similar plot points happen on a sheep farm on the outskirts of Yorkshire, England. But whereas Brokeback was able to communicate the extreme difficulty of being a closeted gay man in the Wyoming of the past, God’s uses this story to communicate so much more about contemporary gay men.

Protagonist Johnny Saxby’s family owns a sheep farm where he helps to care for sheep that cover some vast hills above West Yorkshire. But when birthing season comes around and Johnny’s reckless and animalistic actions cause one newborn calf to have to be put down, his father hires Romanian immigrant Gheorghe Ionescu to help with the other births.

Johnny and Gheorghe’s relationship is the centerpiece of this film, with each character’s personality and masculinity contrasting each other. Each display either a toxic or tender masculinity through their animal care and through their approach to each other. Much of this movie uses strong, naturalistic visuals to tell the story and communicate the character’s personality.

Two sex scenes in particular show how the differences between Johnny’s and Gheorghe’s masculinity manifests itself, with one scene being more animalistic and crude while the other shows a more tender, nurturing intimacy. This use of sex scenes to more fully develop a character is reminiscent of Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, where Viggo Mortenson’s character engages very differently in sex with his wife once his former identity is revealed.

What adds to the film’s naturalism are graphic animal care and birthing scenes. Each of these scenes were filmed live without the use of prop animals or stand-ins. The two main actors were also made to live as sheep farmers and aid with the birthing process of sheep in order to better perform these duties while being filmed.

The film received 30 nominations at various film festivals while winning 27 of those, with God’s winning Best British Independent Film, Best Actor, Best Sound, and best Debut Screenwriter for Francis Lee at the 2017 British Independent Film Awards. 

Share this review.

-Eric Beach