Watched: 15 February
Francis Lee’s feature debut is a love story set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire countryside – not the Dales National Park, as quite a few reviews have incorrectly stated, but just to the south in West Yorkshire, near Leeds and Skipton. The two lovers are an English farmer’s son named Johnny (Josh O’Connor), a young man who is facing increased responsibilities as his dad (played with considerable gravitas by an occasionally incoherent Ian Hart) struggles to adapt following a stroke, and a Romanian farmhand named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), who is moving from farm to farm in the area in search of work.
At first Johnny – who has not come out at the start of the film – berates Gheorghe with insults, the line between mere flirtation and racist ignorance somewhat blurred, but the two men become closer during a stay away from the farmhouse to look after some ewes. Though the structure mirrors that of Brokeback Mountain, this is in every other way a very British film; the Yorkshire scenery is a major factor, beautiful but often wet and windswept, and you can see and feel its harshness, even when out of focus during the many close-ups and mid shots of the two main actors. And then there’s the typically male, typically Yorkshire dialogue: communication between men in this drama is nearly always blunt and any discussion of emotions or attempts to repair relationships are to be avoided at all costs. In this sense it’s interesting to compare Johnny’s inability to express his feelings with Gheorghe’s own verbal struggles – he is a quiet chap and, though it’s obvious to say so, English isn’t his first language. So the relationship looks like it’ll be a struggle from the get-go, and watching this play out is pretty enjoyable. It’s a strong debut from Lee, with good performances and impressive photography. (***½)