Fanny Lye Deliver’d is now available to rent, buy or stream.
Thomas Clay’s fourth film Fanny Lye Deliver’d, 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 picking up the distribution rights. Despite the post-production chaos, Thomas Clay’s complex homage to 1970s folk horror was a visual treat, layering discussions on Puritanism, control and freedom with exquisite folk horror.
It’s 1657, and Charles I had lost his head years before following the English Civil War, with the country now in the hands of Oliver Cromwell (Lord Protector). But Cromwell’s actions are caught in a paradox as he offers people a voice while encouraging puritanical beliefs and religious control. However, as Cromwell’s reign nears its final chapter, brave new voices speak out against his Puritanism.
The Lye family, Fanny (Maxime Peake), her husband John (Charles Dance) and their son Arthur maintain a small farm in the rolling Shropshire hills. The family unit is controlled by the patriarchal figure of John, who dictates the rhythm and pace of daily life through religious teachings, control 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 following a woodland robbery. Believing their story, John takes them into his home with the intention of safely escorting them to the village constable for further assistance. However, as Thomas and Rebecca slowly settle into life with the family, they offer a glimmer of excitement to Fanny and young Arthur as their values and opinions clash with John’s Puritanism. But family life is about to spiral out of control as secrets are revealed, beliefs are challenged, and safety is undermined.
Fanny Lye will likely draw comparisons with Michael Reeves’ 1968 classic Witchfinder General as Clay creates an atmosphere of impending doom, only heightened by his use of Old English. Maxime Peake’s Fanny is ferocious and vulnerable in the presence of newfound knowledge. Meanwhile, Freddie Fox reflects the arrogance and energy of youth with a devilish charm as his true intentions bubble to the surface, his scenes alongside Charles Dance reminiscent of two stags rutting in Autumn for supremacy as Giorgos Arvanitis’ sublime cinematography shrouds us in the early morning and late evening mist. Fanny Lye Deliver’d never provides easy or comforting answers; just like Witchfinder General, its horror ensures the events linger in the mind long after the credits roll. The result is a haunting journey where the shackles of religion and control are shattered only to be forged into something new.