Fanny Lye Deliver’d is now available to rent, buy or stream.
Thomas Clay’s third film Fanny Lye Deliver’d, has had a long and challenging journey to the screen, languishing in post-production hell for almost three years due to funding pressures. However, after copious delays, Fanny Lye finally premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 2019, with Vertigo Releasing picking up the distribution rights. But was Fanny Lye worth the wait? The answer is yes! Here Thomas Clay brings us a complex homage to 1970s folk horror, layered with themes of puritanism, control and freedom as he dissects patriarchy, state control and evangelical belief.
The year is 1657, and Charles I has lost his head following the English Civil War, with the country lying in the hands of one Oliver Cromwell (Lord Protector). Here the Monarchy was replaced by parliament and significant social and religious change. But Cromwell’s actions are caught in a paradox as he offers the people a voice while furthering puritanical beliefs and religious control. However, as Cromwell’s reign nears its final chapter, brave new voices began to speak out against the puritanism he embodied.
READ MORE: THE LAST THING MARY SAW
The Lye family, Fanny (Maxime Peake), husband John (Charles Dance) and son Arthur maintain a small farm in the rolling Shropshire hills. Here the family unit is controlled by the patriarchal figure of John, who dictates the rhythm and pace of daily life through religious teachings, beatings and power. John proudly wears his faith on his sleeve in a community where men lead, and women follow. However, one Sunday morning following their trip to Church, the family return home to find two strangers in their barn, Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Reynolds). The strangers are wearing clothes stolen from the Lye family trunk as they desperately plead for help due to a woodland robbery, where they were left with nothing but scars.
Believing their story, John takes them into his home with the intention of safely escorting them to the village constable for further help. However, as Thomas and Rebecca slowly settle into life with the Lye’s, they offer a glimmer of excitement to Fanny and young Arthur, their values and opinions clashing with John’s puritanism. But family life is about to spiral out of control as secrets are revealed, beliefs challenged, and safety undermined.
READ MORE: THE LIGHTHOUSE
Tonally Fanny Lye draws comparisons with Michael Reeves’ 1968 classic Witchfinder General by playing with the folk horror genre in carving a unique, horrific and mesmeric journey. Here the power of Clay’s Olde English screenplay is further enhanced by the divine performances of a small, perfectly formed cast. Maxime Peake’s Fanny is both ferocious and vulnerable in the presence of newfound knowledge, her wants and desires slowly unravelling under the guise of a home invasion thriller. Meanwhile, Freddie Fox reflects the arrogance and energy of youth with a devilish charm as his true intentions bubble to the surface. Here his scenes with Charles Dance are reminiscent of two stags rutting in Autumn.
READ MORE: GLASSHOUSE
But it’s the cinematic design of Fanny Lye that brings the horror home in spades. Here Giorgos Arvanitis’ sublime cinematography uses 35mm film to full advantage; the Lye’s cottage enveloped in a dreamlike mist that slowly turns into fog as we reach the film’s gruesome conclusion. Meanwhile, Thomas Clay’s direction once again proves why he is one of the unique voices in modern British cinema.
The message each viewer takes from Fanny Lye Deliver’d will differ based on their perspective in a film that never seeks to provide easy or comforting answers. But, just like Witchfinder General, its horror credentials ensure the events at play linger in the mind long after the credits roll as we are taken on a haunting journey where the shackles of religion and control are shattered but not forgotten.
Director: Thomas Clay