Beautiful, hopeful and joyous, this film was a pleasure to watch from start to end. Minor spoiler review of the film and a discussion about how queer cinema is at it’s best in 2018.
I watched this film on the evening of my 20th birthday.
Queer cinema is at its peak this year. With the success of ‘Call Me By Your Name’, ‘The Handmaiden’, ‘Moonlight’ and even in the world of mainstream cinema with ‘Love Simon’, it’s clear to see there is a huge appreciation and need for the stories of LGBT people to be told on the big screen. They can be harrowing, they can be uplifting, they can be vibrant. The importance of films displaying stories that show the truth and speak for many voiceless people has never been more vital. Queer cinema is one of my most favourite film genres for this very reason.
So as I settled down to watch ‘GOC’, with only the review, “It’s Brokeback Mountain set in the Yorkshire dales” ringing in my ears, I was excited but still unsure what to expect from Francis Lee’s 4th and newest film.
The film tells the tale of Johnny Saxby (an astonishingly transformative and beautiful performance by Josh O’Connor), a young closeted gay man, who works on his father’s farm, in a desolate yet beautiful area of Yorkshire known as ‘God’s Own Country’. Johnny’s only form of release from the intense and exhausting farm schedule are his weekends full of binge drinking and casual sex. Johnny lives with his grandmother (Gemma Jones) and disabled father (Ian Hart), who, unable to complete the manual tasks required of him, hires a young Romanian immigrant farm hand called Gheorghe to assist Johnny. Johnny puts up a fight at first but soon finds himself falling for Gheorghe and the two start up an intense, loving relationship.
Josh O’Connor, who I had only seen prior in the ITV show ‘The Durrells’ and the drama, ‘The Riot Club’, BLEW MY MIND. His performance was one of the best I have seen in a long time. He transformed himself into the hunched and miserable figure of Johnny. With his broad Yorkshire accent and aggressive manner, he was worlds away from the polite, softly spoken Cheltenhem actor I’d seen in interviews. Johnny’s journey from a restricted, unhappy, angry and ignorant young man to someone able to give and receive love and affection was subtle and intelligent. It is a performance that I will constantly go back to and really struck me. The stellar cast of Ian Hart and Gemma Jones added to the film even further. Jones was wonderful as the stern yet sensitive grandmother and Hart brought power to the angry and iron-fisted father, furious at his son but also the debilitating illness crippling him. And of course, newcomer Alec Secareanu was beautiful as the sensitive and loving farm hand Gheorghe. He was captivating to watch onscreen and I predict huge things for him. The chemistry between the two turned from intense and powerful to soft and loving, a pleasure to experience as an audience member.
The cinematography of the film gave the Yorkshire moors a cast billing of its own. I noticed upon a second viewing that prior to Gheorghe’s arrival at the farm, the surrounding area of ‘God’s Own Country’ was presented as dark, dismal and bleak. This could represent Johnny’s view of the hopeless and unhappy life he is living. Gheorghe’s arrival marks the beginning of Spring. Flowers bloom, lambs and calves are born and the weather perks up. We see this particularly in the magnificent hill scene, when both men run to the edge of the highest hill. Gheorghe expresses the view’s beauty to which Johnny scoffs. However, from this point on the backdrop of Yorkshire is presented as beautiful, with it’s blue skies and lush moors. Johnny is also able to see the positivity and joy in a world where he can love who he wants to and express himself.
I read an article that I linked below that listed farming as the occupation that leads to the most suicides, which adds to the film’s poignancy. We see how lonely, tiring and isolating the farming lifestyle can be from Johnny’s perspective. We are fond of Johnny despite often unlikable demeanour, and want things to go well for him. This again is due to O’Connor’s beautifully crafted performance. We can relate to Johnny; we recognise our own unhappiness in his and are able to see things from his perspective, understanding the reasons he acts the way he does. It was clear O’Connor was committed to the role of Johnny. It was a detailed role and I still yearn to know more about the character’s backstory and how the story continues after the film’s end.
This film was not only moving and heart-warming but refreshing. Many films that display stories of LGBT characters rarely feature a happy ending as the stories are often harrowing. This of course is extremely important as we as audience members must hear and see the truth of the constant struggle LGBT people face in daily life. However, it was lovely to see a hopeful and joyous ending to this film. Ghorghe and Johnny end up together, walking into the farm cottage arm in arm and we as an audience are comforted that the duo are going to be just fine.
Below is a link to an article that lists the top queer films of this year. I will certainly be exploring the genre and these films so if you are too, check out this article for more info.