God's Own Country | 2017
OK, let’s get Brokeback Mountain out of the way. Yes, there’s a fiercely sexual relationship between two taciturn, sheep-watching farm workers, but Francis Lee’s film is at the same time bleaker yet more hopeful.
It’s set around Keighley in West Yorkshire – an area much romanticised on screen in 1970’s much-loved The Railway Children, but here tough, earthy and totally unsentimental in its portrayal of life on the land.
I don’t know if Keighley is positioning itself to take over from San Francisco as the gay capital of the Western World, but there does seem to be a helluva lot of man-on-man action between the sheep shearing.
The farm on which boozy Johnny Saxby (Josh O'Connor) lives with his hard-working, long-suffering parents, belongs to the director’s father, and the familiarity shows.
It’s Far Laithe Farm, between Braithwaite and Laycock, just west of Keighley. It’s private working land so, please, no crass trespassing. It’s a farm OK?
Johnny’s glum life of binge drinking and quick, anonymous sex in gents’ lavatories is turned around when Johnny’s father is incapacitated by a stroke and migrant Romanian worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) is hired to help out.
Reluctantly, Johnny is sent to meet Gheorghe from in front of Keighley Railway Station – and later sets out to track him down for the much more modern Keighley Bus Station.
The local pub where Johnny gets regularly bladdered (US: intoxicated) and which, I’m sure, is much more warm and welcoming than its screen incarnation, is The Kings Arms Pub & Restaurant, 2 Church Street, Haworth. A former manor house, the historic inn has recently been given a major refurbishment.
I can’t help feeling that Emily Brontë might recognise a distant cousin of Heathcliff in the darkly brooding, handsome outsider Gheorghe.
In the end, perhaps God’s Own Country is more Wuthering Heights than Brokeback Mountain?