Johnny Saxby (Josh O'Connor) lives on the Yorkshire farm he grew up on with his father Martin (Ian Hart) and his grandmother Deidre (Gemma Jones), but he is not coping with such an isolated way of life very well, spending his days working with the sheep and cows, then his nights getting drunk out of his mind to erase the numbing boredom he feels. Making this worse is that Martin has recently suffered a stroke and has more trouble getting around, therefore cannot assist around the farm as well as he used to, leaving his son with the lion's share of the duties which piles on the pressure even more. It's come to this, the only aspects of the day keeping him going are the booze and the sex.
But not sex with ladies, which at least might have left him feeling less of an outsider, nope, Johnny prefers sex with men, as we see from the outset as he has a rough encounter with a trainee at a cattle auction, a stark scene that makes it apparent he has some serious emotional issues - the other bloke offers to take him out for a pint (it's the least he could do!) but is turned down gruffly by Johnny, who doesn't mind intercourse of a sexual nature, but when a social intercourse is required, he literally runs for the hills. And dales. If you were anticipating an updating of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small, then you would assuredly be looking in the wrong place with this.
There was nothing cosy in God's Own Country (a semi-snarky title referring to what the Yorkshire folk term their county), it was austere almost to a fault, with its lead character obviously heading straight towards alcoholism, a ruined career in farming, and eventual (it is implied) suicide, a real problem among farmers in the twenty-first century. If that had been the path writer and director Francis Lee took, basing this on his experiences growing up in that land, then his film would have been unbearably depressing, but all of a sudden the sulky, aggressive and all-round not very nice person meets Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), the Romanian immigrant his father has hired to help out.
Initially, Johnny is dismissive of the young man, making a point of merely referring to him as "gypsy" in their exchanges, despite being asked not to, and Lee risked turning us off from his protagonist from the outset since he came across as so prickly and unsympathetic. However, we could discern that Johnny was the way he was thanks to a crippling loneliness, and being a modern, unreconstructed male, communication was not his strong point, seemingly he would rather stay in this black hole of depression than admit to anyone he could do with company, and not simply some random chap to shag. Therefore when looking after the sheep on a camping trip in the hills, the two men abruptly find themselves grabbing one another, and that surliness has transformed into lust and passion.
Not that this causes them to get to know one another right away, and if there was a flaw it was their attraction erupted out of the blue, as Gheorghe gave no previous indication he wished to fuck some sense into the senseless Johnny, which in effect was what he did. Soon our closed down antihero was opening up, becoming a nicer guy, and actually enjoying someone else's presence, rendering the film's message more like all a bad-tempered bigot needed was a dose of man on man action and he would see the error of his ways and transform into a good person. If that was farfetched, then it was true the theme was more how making a connection with somebody, be that for love or friendship, could save your life, and Johnny does not suddenly turn into a gregarious soul, he is happy with his unspoken understanding. But there were knocks to suffer, and he does revert to idiocy before he can learn the error of his ways, leading to a genuinely sweet and moving conclusion in welcome contrast to the harshness of before: it didn't have to be that way, we were reassured. Music by A Winged Victory for the Sullen.
[The Spirit DVD includes deleted and extended scenes as an extra.]