GOD's Own Country filmmaker Francis Lee grew up on the Pennine hills, on a farm above Ripponden, in the Halifax district.

"We had pigs and cows, and that was my playground as a kid," he recalls. "When I was 20, I moved to London to study acting at Rose Bruford, but the whole time I was away I couldn't get those hills out of my mind as I felt they'd formed me physically and mentally. Once I left, I was desperate to return."

Did that surprise him? "No, I found it very frustrating being away, though there's a part you that feels relaxed when you're home, but it can also feel isolating and difficult to live there."

This prompted the West Yorkshire writer-director to write God's Own Country, a heartbreaking Yorkshire love story that was chosen to open this summer's Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it won the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film. Tomorrow, it begins a week-long run at City Screen, York.

"I started to think about writing this film five years ago, knowing that I wanted to explore how that place could feel so liberating and free but so restrictive too, and how people cling to those hills and dig a living out of them," says Francis, whose father now farms on the outskirts of Keighley.

In his feature film debut – he has made two shorts films too – he presents a tenderly observed coupling of a disenchanted farmer's son and a Romanian migrant worker. John Saxby (played by Josh O'Connor) bears the heavy burden of running his family's farm now that his father Martin (Ian Hart) is partially paralysed following a stroke. John carries out the various daily chores and drowns his sorrows to excess at the local pub, all the time wrestling with his sexuality as he engages in sexual encounters with local men, without any emotional engagement.

When the lambing season approaches, Martin hires a casual worker, Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu), to help John repair damage to a stone wall. The two men bed down in an old outhouse and sparks of passion fly, the two seeking comfort in each other's arms but the farmer's son is petrified of showing his feelings in public.

Francis knew this was a story he wanted to tell. "I was an actor for about 20 years, doing films, theatre and telly, but I've always known I wanted to write and direct," he says.

York Press:

"It's a film full of hope," says God's Own Country director Francis Lee

"I loved storytelling but I didn't have the confidence; I wasn't academic but I loved storytelling through visual imagery and I loved still images too, and I'd been frustrated by acting for some time, so I looked to make a short film, The Farmer's Wife, shot on my dad's farm, then started writing God's Own Country, and while I was having meetings to take that film forward, I made another short, Bradford Halifax London."

God's Own Country was put forward for IFestival development, a year-long scheme to bolster microbudget films, but when the film was not taken up, the BFI stepped in anyway, such was their enthusiasm for Lee's film project, duly committing to funding it. "That was around April/May in 2015 but because the film is all set at lambing time I had to wait to March/April 2016 for the next lambing season in West Yorkshire to film it."

After making two shorts on his father's farm, Francis felt he needed to move the filming for God's Own Country to another farm and duly used a farm run by a friend of his father.

The story is not autobiographical. "The characters are not me, not my family, not my experience, but the way I responded to that landscape was very personal. It's that idea that you can be in a place that is so creative and wild and free, but also it's a hard, harsh landscape; it's windy, it's cold, muddy and problematic," says Francis.

"When I was an unemployed actor, I would sit at home and watch programmes like Escape To The Country and not recognise the country life they portrayed as it was being presented as pastoral and slow when my experience hadn't been like that at all."

Francis decided it would be important to have a casual worker as one of the central characters in God's Own Country. "I always knew I wanted the character coming to work on the farm to be an outsider, to give a different perspective," he says.

"I once got a job working in a sabotage yard, a scrapyard, and one of the guys who came to work there was from Romania, and we became good friends. I was shocked and ashamed by what he'd experienced, coming to the UK, but I was also uplifted by how he coped. I learnt about Romania, where again there are farmers who make a living on small holdings, so the two characters in the film could mirror each other in their experiences."

God's Own Country is being called "Yorkshire's Brokeback Mountain", a comparison that Francis takes in his stride. "I take it as a compliment, because Brokeback Mountain was an incredible film with masterful film-making, an incredible script and incredible performances, but it was very specific to a time that was very restrictive and it ends very tragically," he says.

"But God's Own Country doesn't deal with prejudice; it's about Johnny, who has shut down emotionally and can't accept or give love, but here he finally opens up to love, so it's a film full of hope."

God's Own Country (15) opens at City Screen, York, tomorrow