Queerly Ever After is a bi-monthly column where I take a look at LGBT+ films that gave their characters a romantic happily-ever-after. There will be spoilers.
Queerly Ever After has officially hit one year since I started writing this column. In honor of its anniversary (birthday?) I will finally be writing about the movie that inspired this column in the first place: Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country. I’ve held off on talking about this movie because it’s been difficult collecting my thoughts on it. I love this movie, and sometimes when I am truly enamored of a film, I find it difficult to form the right (cohesive) sentences. That being said, it is time to finally talk about this beautiful movie.
Set in the Yorkshire countryside, a young farmer, Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), deals with his general malaise by binge drinking and casual hook-ups with random men. Life on the farm is isolating, and aside from the animals he tends to, the only people he sees on a daily basis are his father Martin (Ian Hart), a man of few words, and his grandmother Deirdre (Gemma Jones).
That all changes when Martin hires a Romanian migrant, Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu) worker to come help on the farm for the spring. What begins as a testy relationship between the two young men, mostly due to Johnny’s coldness and xenophobic remarks towards Gheorghe, soon turns into a passionate romance.
Due to the farm setting, a lot of reviewers have likened God’s Own Country to Brokeback Mountain, but aside from both involving farmland, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Neither Johnny nor Gheorghe is still discovering their sexuality in God’s Own Country.
None of their conflict comes from being sexually repressed, but from whether or not Johnny is able to be emotionally available enough for a relationship to work. It also needs to be noted, that there are a lot of movies centered on a love story between two men that are set on farms (Harvest, Fair Haven), we can’t liken them all to Brokeback Mountain.
Not Defined by their Sexuality
I’ve said this before when talking about other films, but again, it’s nice to see a film where the two gay characters are not trying to fight against their sexuality. Yes, Johnny is a very closed-off young man, but he’s definitely not closeted.
In one of the early scenes in the film, he runs into a woman he went to school with outside of a pub. She’s visiting back home from university and mentions that she brought some friends with her, one of those friends is a guy she thinks Johnny would really like. Gheorghe, the significantly more open and emotionally available of the two men, also never wonders whether he and Johnny can make it work because of their sexuality, but because of Johnny’s drunk behavior.
A Rocky Start
As I mentioned earlier, Johnny and Gheorghe do not start off on good footing. When Gheorghe first arrives, Johnny is displeased that his father has hired an extra farmhand in the first place. And then, there’s the issue of xenophobia, Gheorghe is Romanian, and has grown up accustomed to being called slurs such as ‘Gypsy”.
In fact, racist sentiment towards Romanians is still prevalent in a lot of European society. Yorkshire isn’t exactly welcoming to Gheorghe, and neither is Johnny. Johnny, whether he harbors xenophobic sentiments or not, seems to get a kick out of riling Gheorghe up by hurling the word “Gypsy” at him. Does Johnny actually believe all the racist sentiment about Romanians? Does that matter? No, saying a racist thing and not meaning it is still racist.
And xenophobia isn’t the only thing that hinders their relationship. Johnny has spent years burying his troubles by drinking, and falling in love with Gheorghe does not stop that. However, when he and Gheorghe go to a pub, Gheorghe becomes the victim of verbal bullying from some xenophobic locals, and Johnny retreats by drunkenly returning to some of his old ways.
As I said, these two have quite a bit to work through if their relationship is going to survive. I also realize that I have currently made Johnny seem like a grade-a asshole. And at times he can be, he’s also a young man who has grown up in an isolated area with an emotionally distant father and an absent mother, does that excuse his behavior? No. But, when he realizes that he needs to change and starts putting in the work to do so, to be worthy of Gheorghe’s love, that is a start.
God’s Own Country: In Conclusion
This movie is a beautifully poignant slow burn with a stellar cast. Lee, a Yorkshire farmer himself, wonderfully captures the coldness and isolation of the Yorkshire countryside, while also highlighting its magnificent beauty. There’s so much more to say about just what makes this film fantastic, that I can’t even put it into words. Suffice it to say, I highly recommend you watch God’s Own Country.
Watch God’s Own Country
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