This review is brought to you in partnership with our friends at Vertigo Releasing
Thomas Clay’s third highly anticipated film ‘Fanny Lye Deliver’d’ has had a long and challenging journey to the screen. Languishing in post-production for almost three years due to funding pressures. However, after many delays, it premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 2019. With Vertigo Releasing now bringing the film to a wider audience via streaming services. But was it worth the extended wait? The simple answer is yes! as Thomas Clay brings us a delicious and complex take on 1970s folk horror. Layering his vision with themes of ideology, puritanism and freedom. Ultimately delivering a dissection of the social boundaries created by patriarchy, state control and evangelical belief.
The year is 1657, Charles I has been dispatched ruthlessly by the English Civil War, and the country lays in the hands of Oliver Cromwell. The Monarchy, duly replaced by parliament, while ‘Lord Protector’ Cromwell leads social and religious change. His actions caught in a paradox of offering people a voice while embedding puritanical beliefs and laws. However, as Cromwell’s reign slowly marches towards its end, brave new voices began to speak of freedom from the puritanism he embodied.
The Lye family; Fanny (Maxime Peake), husband John (Charles Dance) and son Arthur maintain a small farm in the rolling Shropshire hills. Their family unit, controlled by the patriarchal figure of John. Who dictates the rhythm and pace of daily life through religious teachings, fear and power. Proudly wearing 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). Both wearing clothes, stolen from the Lye family trunk while desperately pleading for help. Their story centring on 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 wait they slowly find themselves settling into life with the Lye’s. Working alongside the family while offering a glimmer of excitement to Fanny and young Arthur. However, as their values and opinions begin to oppose John’s puritanism; family life spirals out of control. As secrets are revealed, beliefs challenged and safety undermined. But, does the true threat lay in the actions of a young couple or the ruthless power of religion?
While tonally drawing comparisons to Michael Reeves 1968 classic Witchfinder General. Fanny Lye Deliver’d also plays with multi genres in carving its unique and mesmeric journey. As waves of the American western crash up against tongue in cheek British humour, and hints of Grimm’s darkest fairytales. Ultimately creating a truly distinctive and fresh film, that beats its own drum in challenging viewer perceptions.
While the power of Clay’s Olde English screenplay is only further enhanced by the divine performances of a small but perfectly formed cast. Maxime Peake’s Fanny is both ferocious and vulnerable in the presence of newfound knowledge. Her wants and desires slowly unwinding as her guests turn into something sinister yet exciting. While Freddie Fox reflects the arrogance and energy of youth with a devilish charm. Thomas’ beliefs clashing with John’s puritanism like two stags rutting in the depths of Autumn.
Meanwhile, Giorgos Arvanitis sublime cinematography uses 35mm film to its full advantage, the Lye’s cottage enveloped by a dreamlike misty landscape. The mist turning to fog and isolation as we reach the films grisly conclusion. But it’s Thomas Clay’s vision and direction that truly stands out, once again proving that he is one of the most unique voices in modern British cinema. His vision equalling that of Peter Strickland, while inhabiting a similar landscape to Robert Eggers.
The key messages each viewer takes from Fanny Lye Deliver’d will differ based on individual perspective, in a film that never seeks to provide easy and comforting answers. Its horror credentials ensuring it lingers in the mind long after the credits roll. Ultimately offering us a complex, engaging and blistering journey into self-realisation; the shackles of religion and control shattered but not forgotten.
Director: Thomas Clay