“I wanted to show a young man who’s terrified of being vulnerable but learning that he has to be.”
God’s Own Country is this year’s must-see gay movie; a tale of two farmhands – Johnny and Gheorghe – engaged in a passionate liaison in the great outdoors that many are (wrongly) calling ‘the British Brokeback Mountain’.
Powerful, moving and tender, we’d prefer to think of the most talked about LGBT+ movie since Moonlight as a hopeful love story for a more enlightened time.
It’s in cinemas now. Many of you have probably broken down in tears watching it, or at least had a bit of a lump in your throat.
But if you haven’t yet – or you’re gearing up for a second watch – here are eight things we found out about God’s Own Country from the film’s handsome co-star Josh O’Connor, who plays the frustrated and decidedly unhappy Johnny, bound to his father’s farmstead by duty and surly Yorkshire emotional retardation.
By the way though, there are spoilers ahead…
1. Josh and his co-star Alec Secareanu worked on a farm for two weeks before filming.
“It all happened very quickly. I read the script, loved it, met Francis, he cast me, and then we were working on a farm for two weeks before filming. It was really hard work but totally necessary. From the off, I knew that if I was going to make this film, it had to be totally authentic. And there’s no way you can make those farm scenes with props, or fake them using hand doubles. Everything we did, we did for real, and I think it comes across in the film. It was really special to get to do a film like that where it’s all vivid and real.
“I worked with a farmer named John, who owns the farm that we shot on. He’s remained a really good mate of mine – it’s like the most unpredictable friendship! We talk on the phone all the time, I’ve been up to Keighley to visit him and he’s even been down to London. He’s a great mate. At the end of the two weeks working with him – and this is the best compliment you could ever receive from John, although it sounds like it’s not – he just said, ‘Yeah, you’ve done alright.’ And I was like, ‘Yes! Nailed it!'”
2. Audiences at Sundance Film Festival wanted subtitles because they couldn’t understand the Yorkshire accent.
“I remember at Sundance people were like, ‘Are you subtitling it?’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And they were like, ‘Well there are bits we can’t understand – like what’s a “bap” and what’s a “brew”?’ John the farmer always used to take the piss out of me saying, ‘Can I have a bacon roll?’ He was like, ‘Ask for a fucking bacon bap!'”
3. But even still, the reaction to this same-sex love story has been incredible – even from the most unlikely of places.
“Generally speaking, people have been really affected and on board with it – people from all walks of life, sexualities and backgrounds. I remember at Sundance this woman came up to me – this really old woman and her husband, who lived in Trump’s Utah, the right-wing part of America. Anyway, she came up to me and she was like, ‘When I first saw Johnny on screen I hated him, but I loved Gheorghe. Then by the end, I loved you both!’ And then she gave me this great big hug.”
4. At its heart, God’s Own Country is a film about intimacy and vulnerability.
“At the beginning of the film, Johnny is a young man who hasn’t got time for any pleasure or any entertainment. He gets up early, he does his shift – all day long, every single day of the year – and in the evenings he binge drinks and has casual sex. But it’s not pleasurable, it’s numbing.
And his sex is all about taking what he needs; it’s about filling a requirement and moving on. So when [Alec’s character] Gheorghe arrives, it’s about Johnny learning to open up, learning to appreciate love, learning to be vulnerable.
“But something that’s not necessarily picked up on in this film is this idea of Johnny learning to be intimate. [The film’s director and writer] Francis Lee and I talked about the fact that he doesn’t like to kiss. In that first sex scene at the meat market, the auctioneer tries to kiss him and Johnny stops him. And then later there’s a beautiful scene with Gheorghe teaching him to engage in an intimate way. That’s such a huge part of growing up, yet Johnny’s nowhere near that stage. I don’t think it’s something we’ve seen on screen that often. That was the biggest thing for me in this film – I wanted to show a young man who’s terrified of being vulnerable but learning that he has to be.”
5. We’ve basically all known a ‘Johnny’…
“…or we’ve been a ‘Johnny’, or we’ve dated a ‘Johnny’. Or our best mate is ‘Johnny’. Or our best mate is dating a ‘Johnny’. There are ‘Johnnys’ in all our lives! [Laughs] I’ve known a few ‘Johnnys’ in my time, but I love that there’s the turnaround for him in God’s Own Country, I love that there’s hope. Hope is my favourite thing in storytelling, and same with Francis. I enjoy a film with hope.
What I do hope though is that people can come away and hopefully understand ‘Johnnys’ a bit better, actually. The idea of the inability to be vulnerable and the inarticulacy of emotion is something that people can be frustrated by and be angry about. Hopefully, this story will show that people just need to be opened up.
6. It’s probably the only major LGBT+ film in recent memory that actually has a happy ending.
“What I think God’s Own Country does is give you this hopeful, positive queer love story. That’s so rare and so progressive. Brokeback Mountain is tragic and Weekend is tragic, but it’s part of why Francis, Alec and I are so proud of it – people have come out smiling, crying and smiling, and that’s what it’s all about. Cinema can be positive and happy.”
7. Josh and Alec didn’t actually speak or meet for the first time until they started filming.
“It was something me and Francis talked about in our first meeting. I was really interested in working chronologically, which is virtually impossible, but it’s all Francis ever wanted to do. Obviously, there’s a few moments we had to do out of sequence, but the majority was completely chronological. One of the things we discussed in that first meeting was the idea of the hostility that Johnny has towards Gheorghe, and so when Alec was cast we decided we weren’t going to interact until that first meeting on screen.
“It was so tense and we didn’t really talk at all, and the only times we met up were when we had to do rehearsals – the technical things like the sex scenes. Alec was living in a hotel during filming and I was living in this cottage at Francis’ dad’s house. But as the film developed, the relationship of the characters developed, and so my friendship with Alec became stronger. We remain the best of friends now – and he moved in the cottage with me eventually!”
8. The film perfectly encompasses the crippling fear of falling in love.
“One of my favourite things about this film is how much Johnny and Gheorghe change from beginning to the end. And yet, when Johnny travels to find Gheorghe on the other farm, he still can’t fucking say what he wants to say. He doesn’t just say, ‘I love you.’ He doesn’t just say, ‘I came up here on a coach for you and everything.’ That in itself is Johnny’s way of telling Gheorghe he loves him. It’s like John the farmer saying to me, ‘You’ve done alright.’ Really that’s him going, ‘You’re really fucking good at this.’
Johnny still can’t articulate what he wants to say. And it’s 100% relatable when you think about falling in love for the first time. It’s such a confusing set of emotions. It’s the thing about feeling vulnerable – you totally feel out of control. It’s terrifying. It’s so thrilling, but it’s terrifying.
“And that’s the thing with Johnny. It’s crippling and even in that last moment, when he’s gone all that way to tell him, ‘I’m sorry, I messed up, this is so shit, please come back with me,’ he can’t just say that. He can’t say that because this isn’t an experience he’s experienced before. This is totally new foreign ground for him. It’s beautiful the way Francis juxtaposes Gheorghe coming into a foreign land and Johnny entering into foreign emotion.”
God’s Own Country is out in cinemas now. Click here for more, click here to follow the film’s official Twitter account, and click here to follow Josh’s. Or just go see it in cinemas now because it’s amazing.