God’s Own Country begins with a young, smooth-chested, naïve-looking Yorkshire man vomiting all night, then rising early to give a pregnant cow a gynecological fisting. Do not be alarmed. These actions make perfect sense: The fellow, Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), is given to over-drinking, and he lives on a farm with his stroke-hobbled father (Ian Hart) and aged grandmother (Gemma Jones). Johnny’s subsequent actions this morning—going to a livestock auction and having sex with a stranger in the bathroom—are somewhat less explicable, though we come to understand them in time.
Johnny feels trapped and bored, with his friends gone to university while he’s stuck picking up the slack left by his father’s deteriorating health. We infer that the bathroom hookup was not his first, but he’s not out of the closet, and not interested in romance. That is, until the arrival of Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a Romanian farmhand who stays in a caravan trailer out in the yard.
A raw, tender, and at times deeply sensual autobiographical feature debut from writer-director Francis Lee, God’s Own Country invites comparison to Brokeback Mountain—sparks fly when Johnny and Gheorghe undertake a multi-day job that requires camping on a remote corner of the property—but it’s less tragic, focused on Johnny’s internal struggle to accept the love offered to him. The most pivotal scenes are wordless (good thing, as I could have used subtitles for a lot of the Saxbys’ dialogue), with natural, unselfconscious performances by O’Connor and Secareanu. In addition, though it’s Johnny’s story, his father and grandmother are not unimportant to it, as Lee deftly reminds us in a few well-placed moments that make this an above-average gay coming-of-age drama.