Streaming Spotlight - Films set on the farm

We're out in the fields for this week's recommendations

by Amber Wilkinson

Andy Heathcote and Ida the cow have a conversation as he shoots The Moo Man
Andy Heathcote and Ida the cow have a conversation as he shoots The Moo Man
This week we're heading down on the farm for our Streaming Spotlight. A setting that has global appeal, it offers the opportunity to marry family friction to more macro politics. Also, with environmental husbandry increasingly in the international spotlight, there have been a number of documentaries looking at the changing practices on farms across the world. Here's a few of our recent favourites.

God's Own Country, YouTube, Amazon, from £1.99

Francis Lee's earthy Yorkshire-set debut about frustrated young farmer Johnny Saxby (Josh O'Connor), who finds his horizons and heart broadened by the arrival of seasonal worker Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu) is an emotionally raw and turbulent tale leavened by sweetness. Lee's father is a farmer and it shows in the detail he brings to the drama, which is largely set against the backdrop of lambing season and which is evocative of the feel and smell of the farm as well as the look. The filmmaker is also acutely aware of the landscape, which opens up as Johnny's relationship with Gheorghe begins to bloom. Read our interview with Lee - whose latest romantic drama Ammonite is out soon - our interview with O'Connor and Secareanu.

The Biggest Little Farm, Amazon, GooglePlay, from £5.99

Jennie Kermode writes: The notion that city people can uproot themselves and enjoy the good life, producing their own food on their own terms, has long been subject to ridicule. Molly and John decided to do it anyway, chronicling their experiences in this documentary. Initial optimism soon gives way to nerves as they realise the scale of the work involved and how easily things can go wrong, and there are moments of despair when it becomes clear to them that the cycle of life includes death and sometimes they will have to deal it out. As their idealism gives way to understanding, however, they find new ways to love what they're doing. The development of their farm provides a neat small-scale illustration of how ecosystems work and, ultimately, how resilient they can be. If you're tired of watching films about environmental degradation and despair, you'll love seeing how damaged land can be reclaimed and restored, and how much richness can return to it over just a few years. This is a joyous, inspirational film which is also honest enough to act as a how-to guide for those who want to try it themselves. The County, Curzon

Grímur Hákonarson previously explored tensions via Rams, a tale of two feuding brothers. He returns to a similar setting for his low-key follow up that sees Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) finding herself suddenly in charge of a dairy farm after the death of her husband. The film hinges on Egilsdóttir's steely, commanding performance at the film's centre as Inga discovers the squeeze being put on farmers by the local co-operative and becomes increasingly determined to take them on. Like Lee, Hákonarson brings near-documentary detail to farming and the isolated landscape, while celebrating the unlikely heroine at his film's heart.

Chicken Run, YouTube, Google Play

Aardman has found rich pickings down on the farm with Shaun The Sheep getting not only a TV series but his own films. His farm is fun and a far cry from the one the stop-motion studio focuses on in this comedy caper. Offering a barnyard twist on Prisoner of War films like The Great Escape, we watch as plucky Ginger (Julie Sawahla) tries to liberate her pals before they end up in a pie dish, while contending with Mel Gibson's less than on the level Rhode Island Red. As you'd expect from Ardman this is packed with visual gags and treats its source material with care, so that you can feel the love for those original films in every frame, rather than them just being used as a figure of fun. The sequel is currently slated for 2023, although it hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, when Sawahla accused the studio of ageism this summer.

Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman, Amazon Prime

Jennie Kermode writes: If you're aware of how damaging monocultures are to the environment, you may sometimes feel despair, wondering if there is any hope of pushing back against them. This film looks at ordinary people who are doing exactly that. Fishermen who are learning ocean conservation skills and advocating for quotas. Ranchers who have gone back to using traditional methods, without corn-feeding or the constant use of antibiotics. Farmers who have abandoned pesticides in favour of using companion plants and building up ecosystems that reduce the presence of pests. What's striking about their stories is that within just a few years of making these changes, they're all experiencing increased yields - helping the environment but also profiting directly, no sacrifice required. Though the film could do with more input from critics of their methods for an enriched perspective, there's a good deal here to engage with. This return to traditional methods is growing in popularity and helping to restore degraded land and sea. It's a reminder of the difference that individual efforts can still make.

The Moo Man, Amazon Prime and other platforms

This warm-hearted documentary shines a light on a year in the life of organic dairy stockman Stephen Hook as he and his herd move through the seasons, facing challenges as they go. Good husbandry is to the fore on Hook's farm, a place where he knows all the "ladies"  in his herd by name but he is also acutely aware of the economic difficulties of running a small farm for the modern market. Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier are patient directors, happy to wait and watch while situations, like the slow birth of a calf, unfold, which allows their film to gather emotional weight. The full cycle of life is here in all its triumph and grief, so you might want to have a box of tissues handy, just in case. Read our interview with the directors and Hook.

The Levelling, Google Play, Amazon, YouTube, from £2.49

Domestic tensions lie at the heart of this debut feature from Hope Dickson Leach, which sees a woman return to her family farm after her brother commits suicide. The writer/director probes the sort of everyday judgements family members make about one another that can be considerably divorced from the actual reality as Clover (Ellie Kendrick) finds tensions bubbling up between her and dad Aubrey (David Troughton). Leach infuses her drama with an elemental feel, drawing on fire and water imagery and suggesting the constant march of nature, no matter what human drama is being played out.

We're returning to animation for our short selection this week. Save Your Bacon, written and directed by Peter Baynton, about a farmer facing a race against time and featuring excellent voicework by Simon Callow and Warren Clarke.

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