SFFILM 60 – Brokeback Mutton (“God’s Own Country”)

One wouldn’t think that Ang Lee’s seminal Brokeback Mountain would be ripe for a remake already, but damned if first time feature director Francis Lee hasn’t moved the action from the American West to the hills of Yorkshire, England and come up with a comparable film. Recently screened at the 60th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival, God’s Own Country is the tale of young sheep farmer Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) struggling to keep his family farm going while avoiding coming to terms with his sexuality. Salvation (in many ways) arrives in the form of a Romanian emigrant worker, played by Alec Secareanu.

The film is awaiting a commercial release so a full review isn’t possible but let me say that the film is terrifically acted, beautifully shot, occasionally erotic and gut-punchingly emotional. It doesn’t skirt away from the realities of the harshness of either farm life or the challenges of living as a gay man in a rural community. Thick accents make the film difficult to understand at times, but a scene between Johnny and his father (Ian Hart) that culminates in two crystal-clear words will make you shudder.

There are some striking similarities to the Lee adaptation of the Annie Proulx story (shirt smelling, again?), but it stands on its own and is, in some ways, an improvement. The ending, in particular, is significantly more uplifting. It also has something to say about the value of immigration that could stand to be heard in this country.

This is one to look for in a few months at your local independent or art house theatre.

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