(out of 5)
Love is a muddy proposition when two men are drawn to each other on a miserable Yorkshire farm and make a connection under steely gray skies. Josh O’Connor is expertly unreadable as Johnny, the unmotivated but exhausted son of a farming couple (Gemma Jones, Ian Hart) who are compromised by the father’s increasingly serious physical decline. The young man mucks the stables, milks the cows and then pops into town on occasion for a pint and some sodomy in the public loos, usually with keen young men who put up with the fact that he’s all business about it (no kissing allowed). The family hire a temporary worker on the farmer to help with the sheep and he arrives in the form of swarthy, romantic Romanian Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). The two men have little affection between them at first, but it isn’t long before arguments become rolling in the muck since, as is often the case in these wonderfully gruff gay movies, roughhousing with guys you hardly know tends to lead to sex (had I only known this in my twenties). The experience of not just the physical act but also the intimacy that Gheorghe forces upon his more conflicted and confused partner causes an awakening in Johnny that initiates a willingness to love and be loved, a situation that develops in direct opposition to that of his parents and the tragedy on its way for them. The plot is straight out of a romance novel, but the sentiments with which it is played are all genuine, directed with expert intelligence and energy by first-time feature filmmaker Francis Lee, who gets us as much realistic grit out of the actors’ physical intimacy as he does out of watching them perform their daily agricultural duties (among which is included the gorgeous sight of lambs being born). O’Connor and Secareanu are wonderful in the leads, as are the exceptional Hart and Jones, who give a great deal of warmth and humanity to rules that could easily have been played as harsh, rural stereotypes.
Directed by Francis Lee
Screenplay by Francis Lee
Cinematography by Joshua James Richards
Production Design by Stephane Collonge
Costume Design by Sian Jenkins
Film Editing by Chris Wyatt