It’s springtime in Yorkshire, but you’d only know it by the lambs. The earth is stony and the wind is biting. Even the wildflowers struggle to bloom, let alone the romance that forms the central plot of God’s Own Country, an accomplished début feature from British writer–director Francis Lee, who was raised, like his film’s protagonist, on a farm in the Pennine Hills.
Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) lives with his father Martin (Ian Hart) and his grandmother Deirdre (Gemma Jones) in a modest cottage, which we see clinging to an exposed ridge in the film’s establishing shot. An electric light illuminates the pre-dawn gloom: it’s Johnny, hunched over the toilet bowl after another night of binge drinking at the local pub. He’s miserable, but it’s not exactly for want of love or attention. His family is taciturn rather than cold; each member cares for the others but lacks the words to say so. His father is also struggling with the debilitating effects of a stroke. And Johnny is quick to pursue sexual adventure where it can be found – with another young man at a local cattle auction, for instance, in the back of a truck.
You get the sense that Johnny’s difficulties stem from a lack of confidence – he’s quick to rebuff any kindness – and maturity. He still guzzles milk straight from the fridge, like a grotty teenager. This is one of the film’s several precise character details, like Deirdre’s habit of carrying a laundry basket everywhere she goes.