british country

bbc.co.uk
God’s Own Country is Britain’s answer to Brokeback Mountain
From the Berlin Film Festival, this outstanding debut film is a ‘thrillingly real story of gay love’, writes Jessica Kiang.
By Jessica Kiang

Under battered Yorkshire skies, with grime beneath its nails and soil clodding up the treads of its boots, Francis Lee’s outstanding feature debut God’s Own Country is a work of rough-hewn alchemy. But instead of gold, from the muck and straw it spins a thrillingly real story of gay love. It will inevitably invite comparisons with Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain — at times it almost actively courts them — but seldom has a film or its characters felt less derivative.

In any case, this isn’t only a love story. It is also an immigrant tale and an unflinching portrait of rural farm life where the war between tradition and change is bitter and has real casualties. And in Josh O'Connor (Peaky Blinders) the film finds a central performance of such authenticity and naturalism that is feels like it grew there, planted some years ago, with a root system that extends for miles under these forbiddingly lovely moors.

The film’s sense of place recalls Andrea Arnold’s viscerally damp and windswept Wuthering Heights

This sense of place, and of tactile immediacy in the detail and dirt of its wild location, at times recalls Andrea Arnold’s viscerally damp and windswept take on Wuthering Heights, but there is nothing ethereal about Lee’s vision of rural life. Instead he finds beauty in details of skin, fur, ordure, spit, vomit, semen, mucus and afterbirth. Here the ‘miracle of birth’ and the ‘circle of life’ are captured in shots of chickens pecking at eggshells, ewes licking the mucus from their newborns, or, during one exceptional sequence, a dead lamb being briskly skinned and its hide used to clothe a runt, so that it will be accepted by the bereaved mother.

In fact the first animal birth that happens here is an abortive one: Johnny (O'Connor) is away bringing a cow to market, and having an anonymous, illicit sexual encounter with a young man he meets there, while back on the farm the pregnant cow to whom he had been tending, dies in the process of giving birth to a half-dead calf. His father Martin (Ian Hart) whose failing health necessitates the use of two walking sticks, unambiguously blames his son and leaves the mercy killing of the calf to him.

‘Animalistically sexual’

Surly, scowling Johnny lives on the inexorably failing livestock farm with his father and grandmother (a terrific Gemma Jones) in an atmophere of mutual hostility and barked-out orders reluctantly followed. Martin, all but incapacitated, hires a Romanian migrant worker to help out for a week during lambing season and when Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) arrives, it seems at first like he will be just another reason for resentment. Johnny, who gets so blind drunk in the pub most nights that his mornings are spent vomiting, is openly hostile to him, as well as sneeringly dismissive of his old friends from the region who have gone away to college. The only hint we get that there was ever anything more to Johnny than this unprepossessing truculence is at the pub, when an old acquaintance urges him to join her and her college mate for a drink: “He’s really funny. You know, like you used to be.”

For his part, Gheorghe takes uncomplainingly to the privations of this isolated location, sleeping in a chilly caravan in the courtyard and passing the days working with Johnny mostly in silence. But he is good at the tasks required of him, not just the fence-mending and wall-repairing but the real business of lambing. And during a few days spent away from the farmhouse, in the hills looking after the sheep, living on off-brand pot noodles and sleeping next to each other in a ramshackle outbuilding, Johnny and Gheorghe’s relationship becomes first animalistically sexual (their first roll in the hay is notable for the lack of hay: they rut in the dirt) and then, astonishingly to Johnny, loving. Under the influence of sudden happiness, manifested in night-time trysts and secret smiles (though perhaps not so secret to Nan’s sharp eyes) Johnny’s imperceptible ugly duckling transformation is a quiet joy to behold.

Maybe it’s time to let gay love stories be gay love stories, to apologise for their themes as little as God’s Own Country does

In the past, when faced with ‘gay films’ of the calibre of Moonlight, Carol, the upcoming Sundance wonder Call Me By Your Name or, now, God’s Own Country – films that tell their stories with tenderness and insight and without a scintilla of camp – the tendency in reviewing has been to somehow claim them ‘for everyone who has ever loved’ or ‘for cinema’, in such a way that defines ‘cinema’ as a broadly heterosexual endeavour, and denies their essential queerness. There is a place for that project – there is sociological importance, not to mention a financial imperative, in presenting gay stories in a way that universalises that experience for a wider (read: predominantly heterosexual) audience. But it can’t help but feel like maybe the time for that fastidiousness is past. Maybe it’s time to let gay love stories be gay love stories, to apologise for their themes as little as God’s Own Country does.

Unlike so many films in this category, this is not about coming out, at least not in the traditional sense — Johnny’s sexuality is a pre-established fact, however unspoken it may be in that household. If anything, it portrays a painfully, magnificently real character coming out as worthy of love, like it’s a gift he didn’t know he wanted and could never have believed he deserved. It’s not despite Johnny’s gayness, but because of it that the journey is so captivating.

Breaking News: Country who voted to leave European Union outraged after EU suggests British Expats in EU countries will loose the right of freedom of movement currently enjoyed by EU citizens once the UK leaves.

TLDR: morons reminded they cannot have their cake and eat it.

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AyeforScotland: I’m not sure whether it’s the hangover of British empire arrogance or utter fucking stupidity.
  • Me: *likes Gal Gadot*
  • tumblr: u can't Like Gal Gadot she supports the military of her home country
  • Me: *likes Gal Gadot whilst glaring at the people trying to impose their own feelings towards her onto me*
theguardian.com
Director Francis Lee on sex, piglets and fighting off Hollywood from his hilltop hut
The debut film-maker behind God’s Own Country talks about growing up on a farm – and why his sensational debut is not ‘the Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain’
By Cath Clarke

Francis Lee shot his sensational debut God’s Own Country down the road from the farm where he grew up in West Yorkshire. A love story between two young male farm workers, it’s been described as “a Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain” and has been picking up awards left and right, including a best director prize at Sundance and the prestigious Michael Powell award at the Edinburgh film festival. Unexpectedly, it has been a Hollywood calling card and Lee’s phone has been ringing off the hook.

At least, it would be ringing off the hook if anyone could get through. Lee, 48, lives in a wooden hut on the side of a hill near Haworth in the Pennines – Brontë country. “The mobile phone reception is nonexistent and I don’t have internet,” he says. So where does he go to pick up emails from big-shot Hollywood agents? Lee chuckles. “Keighley library. I’m a big fan of libraries. Or I go round to my dad’s. He’s 10 minutes away.”

We meet in a cafe in central London during a “smash’n’grab”, as Lee calls his visits south. “I come on the latest possible train I can for meetings and leave on the earliest, so I don’t spend any time here.” Does he hate London that much? “No, I’m just a bit of a homebody.”

My mum says I’d have one hand up a pig’s vagina pulling out the piglets and the other on a bacon butty

God’s Own Country stars Josh O’Connor as Johnny, a young farmer whose life on the family’s failing sheep farm is a monotonous grind of work, getting blotto down the local, waking up in a pile of sick, then back to work. One day, a handsome Romanian labourer called Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) arrives to help with the lambing. Cue the “Dales Brokeback” tag – although a better one might be “Pot Noodle Brokeback”, since the pair carry a giant bucket of the stuff to the remote field where they camp out with the flock.

Lee must be sick of talking about Brokeback Mountain, but he good-humouredly tells me that he’s only watched Ang Lee’s Oscar winner once – when it came out at the cinema in 2005. He has been surprised by the comparison. “I’m not shying away from it; it’s flattering. Ang Lee is an incredible film-maker. But it’s one of those things that gets written in headlines, but when people see the film they go, ‘Well, it’s actually not like Brokeback.’ It feels like such a different story and such a different world. The films are like chalk and cheese in that sense.”

He’s right: the two films inhabit different worlds. Where Brokeback Mountain was set in 1963, when a relationship between two men in Wyoming would have been illegal, Johnny has come to terms with his sexuality. It’s no biggie. His problem is that he can’t open up; inside he’s a knot of repressed emotions. “I was thinking very much about the hardest thing I’ve ever done, probably, which was falling in love,” Lee says. “How vulnerable you have to make yourself, open to love and be loved.” He smiles gently behind a big, bushy Ned Kelly-ish beard.

The film isn’t political, but it does feature a handful of sex scenes that would go unnoticed in a film about heterosexual love. Johnny and Gheorghe’s first roll in the hay – roll in the mud, more like – is frantic and breathless, fuelled on young lust. “It’s the funniest thing that we’re still talking about sex scenes in gay films,” says Lee. For him, the sex is integral to Johnny’s emotional journey. “I’m not a big fan of dialogue. So he wasn’t going to have a conversation where he goes: ‘I’m feeling a bit like this now.’ I had to tell it visually. That’s where the sex really played in.”

Did Lee come under any pressure to tone it down? “There was a debate. I could have made a film that might have taken away some of the threat. Not threat, the …” – he reaches for another word – “the challenge that a wide audience might have. But I didn’t want to do that. You only get one opportunity to make your first film, and it’s the time that you can risk the most.”

In Q&As after screenings a few audience members have challenged him about the absence of homophobia in his portrait of rural Britain. Isn’t it a bit rose-tinted, they ask? “I tell them: ‘What are you saying about people who live there? Are they intrinsically homophobic?’ That isn’t the case. They might not have a liberal middle-class attitude, where they sit around navel gazing about it. But that doesn’t mean they’re homophobic. I haven’t experienced that.”

Lee grew up on the family pig farm in the village of Soyland, in Calderdale, with the hills as his playground. As the youngest child, with the smallest hands, it was his job to deliver the piglets. He grins. “My mum used to tell a story that I’d have one hand up a pig’s vagina pulling out the piglets and the other on a bacon butty. So there was a complete circle of life.” Not exactly The Lion King is it? “No, but I’ve always been pragmatic about life on a farm.”

At 12 or 13, Lee says he decided he wanted to be an actor, and knuckled down at school to get the grades for drama college. Coming out was not particularly important, he says. “It was a kind of non-event. I think it is for lots of people. Which can be disappointing in a sense.” He left home at 20 for the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in Sidcup. As an actor, Lee was never a household name, but he worked steadily in film and TV, hitting a career high when his film-making hero Mike Leigh cast him in 1999’s Topsy-Turvy. Then, seven years ago, after a stint on Heartbeat, he jacked it in. “I’d fallen out of love with acting, and I’d just get into arguments with directors.” About what? “Because really I wanted to tell my own stories. It got to a point where I turned 40 and thought, I’d better do this or it’s never going to happen.”

Growing up, the landscape didn’t have the feeling of freedom or the pastoral. At times it felt oppressive and brutal

Taking a job at a scrapyard to make ends meet, he directed two short films. He wrote half of the script for God’s Own Country in a static caravan on his dad’s farm and the other half in London. “I type with only one finger, and it’s quite loud.” While the story is not autobiographical, Lee admits there might be a little what-if fantasising about what would have happened if he’d stayed in Yorkshire.

While working at the scrapyard Lee made friends with a Romanian guy – “the most beautiful, lovely man” – who had been on the receiving end of xenophobic abuse in London. His experiences fed into the character of Gheorghe. Lee doesn’t want to go into details of what his friend went through. “That’s his story. But I was shocked and ashamed of the reaction that he got in my country.” Is the film a comment on Brexit Britain? Lee shakes his head. “When I wrote it, it was pre- even the notion of a referendum. I think I was tapping the migrant worker/immigration experience, but I wasn’t thinking about it in a political way at all.” The morning the referendum result came through last June, he was sitting with his editor to view the first cut: “We watched in silence, thinking we might have made a period piece.” He smiles. “We didn’t actually change the edit at all in the end.”

Lee paints on a cinematic canvas. But don’t expect gorgeous vistas of rolling Yorkshire dales. He keeps the camera vice-tight, so close you can almost hear his characters breathe. Growing up, he says, he never looked around thinking: Isn’t this beautiful? “I really wanted to show the landscape in the way that I had experienced it. It didn’t have the feeling of freedom or the pastoral. At times it felt oppressive and brutal. I wanted to see the landscape’s effect on the characters, rather than the landscape.”                      

Lee spent three months working intensively with his two leads sketching every detail of their characters. What level of detail are we talking about? “Everything. Where they bought their socks. Which socks they preferred and why. Whether they took sugar in their tea. I won’t tell you the rude stuff.” He sent O’Connor and Secareanu out to work on farms, putting in 12-hour shifts for two weeks, learning to birth lambs, muck out and drive a tractor. “I don’t like fakery. I wanted everything to be real.”

Right now, Lee is working on three projects he can’t tell me about. Has he been tempted by the offers dropping into his inbox? “The money is tempting, because I don’t have any. But this experience has taught me that a film is going to take at least three years of your life to make. And to be able to care enough about all those tiny little details, you have to love it. It needs to feel like a compulsion.”

I ask Lee how life has changed since God’s Own Country premiered to ecstatic reviews at Sundance last January? “I don’t sit at home polishing my awards or anything like that. I’m a quiet person. I’m not a big fan of parties, razzmatazz or red carpets. When I get up on that hill, everybody knows I have no internet and no phone. And I go round my dad’s and he’s like, ‘Ooh. It’s all right for you, int’ it, with your life of riley.’ It’s a lovely leveller. Very normal.”

• God’s Own Country is released on 1 September.