Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor in God’s Own Country. Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor in God’s Own Country. Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

Sparks Fly Amongst the Manure in ‘God’s Own Country’

Director Francis Lee takes viewer down to the farm for romance.

You’ve got to hand it to a movie that introduces its main character as aggressively unpleasant right from the start. We might suspect that redemption will come, but the prospect of spending a lot of time with an obnoxious protagonist can be dispiriting when you’re just sitting down to a night at the movies.

Such is the case with God’s Own Country, or at least it was for me. My spirits sank a little when it became clear that Johnny (Josh O’Connor), who works long days at his family’s small, grubby Yorkshire farm, would be the hero of this tale. When he isn’t yanking newborn calves out of their mothers (this is a movie that shares the realities of farm life in realistic detail), Johnny is binge-drinking, disdaining his parents (played by the excellent actors Ian Hart and Gemma Jones), and occasionally engaging in sexual couplings that have more to do with Johnny’s hostile view of the world than a need for affection. Not jolly company, really.

So it’s a measure of first-time director Francis Lee’s skill that we hang in there with Johnny and hope for an upswing. Then comes a Romanian laborer, Gheorghe (Alec Secaraneau), who arrives at the farm for temporary work. Gheorghe is as warm as Johnny is cold, and when the two men go on a job into the hills, sparks fly between them.

As though aware that his storyline is a romantic vision, Lee roots this tale in the soggy muck of a working farm. (In that sense, the title is complicated: There is a stark beauty here, although it might be difficult to notice if your boots are sunk in manure all day.) The filmmaker grew up on a farm in the north of England, and you never doubt that this tough life is being portrayed from the inside. The characters don’t talk much, including the mostly wordless tension between Johnny and Gheorghe, which evolves from rough passion to something like tender courtship. The actors ably convey this (O’Connor and Secaraneau seem destined for strong careers), with O’Connor making Johnny look nearly happy by the end of the film. Quite an achievement, considering where we began. Opens Friday, Nov. 3, at Siff Uptown. Not Rated.

More in Film

Image courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
‘2001’ in 2018

As Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece returns to theaters for its 50th anniversary, have moviegoers betrayed its legacy?

Through their partnership with Dandelion Africa, Extend the Day supplied solar lights to 9,000 children in Kenya. Photo courtesy of Extend the Day
‘Into the Light’ Cuts Through the Darkness

A documentary about local non-profit Extend the Day shows what it’s like for over 1.2 billion people throughout the world who lack electricity.

Evan Peters preps for a heist in American Animals. Image courtesy The Orchard
‘American Animals’ and How to Not Get Rich Quick

The heist film delivers on-screen thrills, and illustrates a potential future path for MoviePass.

Movies at Marymoor is just one of many local outdoor film offerings. Photo by Erinn J. Hale
Seattle Outdoor Movie Calendar 2018

Journey from Wakanda to a galaxy far, far away with this year’s summer film slate.

Get lost in the desert with ‘Little Tito and the Aliens.’ Photo courtesy SIFF
SIFF 2018 Picks: Final Week

From an isolated scientist to an always-connected teen, we highlight the fest’s offerings from June 4–10.

Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson star in SIFF’s Centerpiece film, <em>Sorry</em><em> to Bother </em><em>You</em>. Photo courtesy SIFF
SIFF 2018 Picks: Week 2

A wide variety of comedies highlight the fest’s offerings from May 29–June 3.

Han-deled Well

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ plays it pretty safe, but still manages to be a fun space adventure.

The Primal Attraction of ‘Beast’

Arresting lead performances give this British psychological thriller an alluringly dangerous sexual energy.

I Am Not a Witch. Photo courtesy SIFF
SIFF 2018 Picks Week 1

From a PBS star to a hip-hop firebrand, our choices for the must-see films screening at the fest from May 21–28.

Hearts Beat Loud. Photo courtesy SIFF
SIFF 2018 Picks: Opening Weekend

From Chinese internet stars to a classic Japanese masterpiece, our choices for the must-see films screening at the fest from May 17–20.

Just a couple of normal buddies hanging out in Deadpool 2. Photo courtesy Twentieth Century Fox
Alive and Quippin’

Deadpool 2 might not be as sharp as the original, but the barrage of pop culture jokes keeps things fun.

The women that run SIFF: Beth Barrett and Sarah Wilke. Photo by Amy Kowalenko/SIFF
Women Filmmakers Make Big Moves at Seattle International Film Festival

As calls for accountability and inclusions roil Hollywood, SIFF’s power duo leads the nation’s largest film festival into a fairer future.