BFI Flare 2018: God's Own Country

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"Johnny Saxby, a young, isolated Yorkshire farmer indulges in binge-drinking and casual sex to compensate for his everyday frustrations. But when a handsome Romanian worker is hired to help with the demands of lambing season, an unexpected relationship develops between the pair, leading Johnny to question the decisions he has made in his life."

God's Own Country is, like Call Me By Your Name, that other gay movie we're told is a must-see. It's the best, Jerry. The Best!

I don't know about you, but that kind of hype is a big turn off for me, for reasons I went into with my review of Call Me By Your Name. I've an inbuilt resistance to hype, and so, since I sit down in the theatre with grave misgivings, these films gain the unintended advantage of rock bottom expectations.

Media pre-approval aside, God's Own Country doesn't have a lot in common with its much-hyped sister. It is a story of sexual awakening, and coming of age in the countryside, but rough (albeit very good-looking) Yorkshire farmer Johnny (Josh O'Connor) is a world away from Name's privileged twink Elio. And you can't get further removed from Armie Hammer's smarmy American Oliver than Romanian immigrant Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu).

But, ee, it's grim up north! We do love a bit of misery in gay cinema, don't we? I was able to open my first three film festival reviews with exactly the same line: "for (insert protaganist's name) life in an (insert name of place) backwater ain't a lot of fun."

For Johnny, it's grimmer than it is for most. A bit too grim, in fact. Big Gay Picture Show reviewer Tim Issac is a former farm boy himself (settle down at the back) and feels they over egged the pudding a bit. But for me, Johnny's depressing Groundhog Day slog sells the transformation Gheorghe's arrival brings about.

With the wild landscape, raw romance, and that sex scene (surely destined to become iconic) there's been lazy comparisons with Brokeback Mountain. God's Own Country is much, much better than that, and the ending is a refreshing divergence from gay cinema's norm.

An intelligent, poignant film that lives up to the hype, whilst managing to surprise and delight.

Every year, KAOS reports from the annual BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival. This year, I'll be reviewing seven films. 


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