The landscape of gay cinema is never one to hold back on cliché and winner of Best British Independent film God’s Own Country is no exception. The story of a gay man unable to face his own need for intimacy, a handsome stranger in a small town, and herding sheep in a cottage far away from civilization capitalizes heavily on the tropes of gay cinema, and it’s received a fair number of comparisons to cult classics such as Brokeback Mountain.
Certainly, this film doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities often painted as the universal LGBT experience. The casual racism and homophobia that permeates the idyllic Yorkshire town is realistic and feels truthful rather than sensationalist. Possibly thanks to the director, Francis Lee’s, own experience growing up in the area and his therefore nuanced understanding of the pressures on LGBT and BAME people living there. The pulls of family responsibility and casual sex versus a relationship are also something gay audiences will be well versed in but the absence of a heterosexual relationship and instead family dynamics and alcoholism makes these problems feel more universal and less of a setting up of a ‘gay lifestyle’ versus ‘traditionally straight’ one that so often appears in other LGBT movies (*cough* Blue is the Warmest Colour *cough*).
The way archetypal gay plot points are used is not a weakness but exactly what makes God’s Own Country stand out. The repetition of well worn stories in a new context, with a softer, more sympathetic gaze, retells a narrative which so often have been used to leave gay characters in cinema isolated and alone and instead aims to give them a path to a happier ending. Superb performances from the lead actors allows the emotional tenor of the film to be traced merely through loaded glances and silences between them. The sexual, familial and romantic tension between characters manages to be both subtle and transparent. This could be influenced by the directors novel strategy of shooting scenes chronologically allowing the relationship between the actors to build as it does between the characters.
When John and Gheorghe stand together trying to settle their differences in the yard of a construction sight they are not merely the two characters in this film but echo a wider genre where gay characters have often not been allowed a happy ending. The redemption of these characters is not just a pivotal moment in this film but for cinema as a whole. God’s Own Country allows a reimagining and reinventing of the tropes of gay film in a way that humanises and dignifies the characters. It is a universal story of overcoming one’s own insecurities to accept intimacy and love, and one that is long overdue.
(Knowledge of the director and directing methods is based off an interview with Francis Lee on the excellent Homo Sapiens podcast.)