Perfect movie. Perfect title, perfect actors, perfect setting, perfect script, every single thing. I was BLOWN away (pun intended you cheeky bastard) by this film. I was at my friend Rachel’s house and we were looking for something to watch and I had been like, “I would watch a comedy?” which immediately turned into ‘clandestine gay love story.’ It’s the winter for God’s sake, we all need some bleak tale about the beauty and pain of love set on a remote English cattle farm. This movie is EXACTLY the kind of porn I would create if I made porn, just with slightly more dead sheep.
So, this movie centers around a boy (Johnny Saxby played by Josh O’Connor) who is probably around 19 or 20, solidly in the middle slice of the Kid/Adult Venn Diagram of life. His mom has left, and he lives with his Nan (Gemma Jones) and Dad (Ian Hunt) who uses a cane, we find out later he has had a stroke. This wouldn’t matter but they are on a farm and he is unable to do half of the labor as he once was. The movie opens with Johnny throwing up, then we live through a single day with him: drinking milk from the bottle, selling a cow at auction, fucking someone in a trailer, going home, getting reprimanded for doing somehow everything wrong, being forced to shoot a baby calf in the head, eating dinner, then getting obliterated at the local pub. The next morning we see him getting sick again and it wordlessly sets up the knowledge that this is what his life is EVERY day, this relentless cycle of hard work, loneliness, and brief escape.
There’s an amazing run-in with a friend who went off to uni, a girl who’s back in town and it’s clear that there’s true friendship but also bristling resentment that he really can’t shake off. Things are RUFF for Johnny.
Then there’s like a farm thing that happens (either it’s a time of year for sheep where there’s more work? Or an especially big project needs to happen? I don’t know, I didn’t fully absorb the motivation for this) but the Dad hires for a week and brings in this guy from Romania (Gheorghe Ionescu played by Alec Secareanu). And guess what? He’s vulnerable but tough and very very cute and also gay it seems. There’s 4 people in this movie and half of them are insanely hot. The dad and Nan were too old for me (the Nan is the mom from Bridget Jones’ Diary!!!) but both male leads, what. the. fuck! Cuties. John is Prince Charles in The Crown Rachel told me, so he clearly has the range.
Um ok, so there’s a very Brokeback Mountain sort of setup where they need to go off by themselves in the blistering cold to do manual labor and share a tent. I don’t know what it is about sharing a tent that makes two men gay, but that’s science for you. On the second night there’s maybe the best sex scene I’ve ever seen in my life, and maybe this is revealing too much about me??? But like, as someone who would inject intimacy into my veins if I could, just wow. The main guy is set up SO guarded and closed off that when the vulnerability comes (and boy does it cum) it’s very wow to me.
Ok so they forge this tentative but sweet bond, but then it’s back to the farm as they say where don’tcha know, there was not a rainbow flag from Chase bank welcoming them. The dad has another stroke which is scary and bad for everyone involved. Gheorghe offers to stay longer than the week to help with the workload but also kind of as a couple? And starts to say relationship things. John accepts, but is clearly scared and overwhelmed. They go to the pub, Gheorghe isn’t really drinking, John is getting wasted, and gets a blowjob from his friend from home’s gay friend from uni. Gheorghe has run into a little casual racism at the pub and is trying to collect him to leave and witnesses said blowjob. He leaves, they have a fight in the street where nothing is said, Gheorghe leaves the next day.
I mean, I’m not going to say the ending because this is a movie you should watch but the ARTISTRY of this movie was stunning to me, I haven’t seen something so careful in a long time. There is MINIMAL dialogue. Like for every probably three minutesof screen time there’s one minute of dialogue but it’s never boring (I would actually use the word ‘riveting’ for the majority of the film), and there’s SO MUCH being communicated nonverbally. It’s amazing. This movie felt like a puzzle, but all the pieces are your ideas about love.
The title is incredible to me because there’s this idea that rural places are very religious and anti-gay but so many rural people are gay and that’s God too. I mean, if you believe in God. Yeah like, the hypocrisy of thinking God made everything in the universe but didn’t make people gay? Or didn’t design free will? (if you think it’s a choice which it’s not!!).
The movie had a rugged tenderness it’s really hard to find sustained examples of and I appreciated it deeply. The costuming was incredibly accurate but it did feel like someone took meth in an Old Navy and just called it a day. Like the amount of gray/navy blue hoodies was unreal. If your kink is lightwash cotton, bring two pairs of underwear!! (‘Bring’ is used very loosely here because this movie is on Netflix).
I mean okay, maybe I will just say the ending, we’re already here. John takes a long journey goes to the potato farm Gheorghe is working on and he almost doesn’t get him back because he can’t articulate his feelings/wont’ be vulnerable but then he does because he has this burst where he’s like, “I want to be with you” and it’s GORGEOUS and they make out on the farm which made me nervous for them!!! But was ok.
An aside: My whole body was tensed for bursts of explicit violence throughout and I think that’s a combination of three things: One, how so many gay love stories include the violence gay people often face which is representational but also deeply upsetting/exhausting and overshadows the casual beautiful light gay romances which also exist, Two a lot of men’s reactions to their own sexuality (or others) can be a violent rejection if they have been brought up to think it’s wrong or a ‘sin,’ and Three, farm life requires a proximity to certain unpleasant/messy parts of life that living in a bigger city shields people from– so I was really primed to expect some vicious shit but honestly pleasantly surprised when it didn’t come. You don’t need to shock people with brutality to drive a message home!! @Quentin Tarantino.
Before going John talks to his father and essentially tells him he’s gay and he’s going to get the guy and, “I can do this but I can’t do it the way you want me to,” meaning, taking care of the farm by himself. Meanwhile his dad, who hasn’t said a single positive or loving thing the entire movie, has realized the fleeting nature of life and the importance of expressing love since his second stroke it would seem is like, “You did a good job…on the fence” or paddock or whatever but it means, “I know you’re gay and I’m proud of you and I love you and I’m sorry.” Male emotion is very complicated but also beautiful.
Then there’s this old footage of two men on a farm like clearing wheat or something with all these children and I feel like it’s the two real guys and the story was based on them?? But I did no research and they could have just put that there to make you think that, I don’t know-I didn’t really need to know either way.
This movie stunned me in so many ways and I genuinely feel changed me??? I feel different now, ever so slightly. Beautiful beautiful storytelling, 69 thumbs up, will masturbate again.
p.s. Two of the “plot keywords” on IMDB for this are “gay relationship” and “sheep” which is very funny.