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. But despite the post-production chaos, Thomas Clay’s complex homage to 1970s folk horror was a visual treat, layering themes of puritanism, control and freedom with patriarchy and evangelical belief.
It’s 1657, and Charles I lost his head years before following the English Civil War, with the country now in the hands of Oliver Cromwell (Lord Protector) – the Monarchy replaced by parliament and significant social and religious change. 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 began to speak out against the puritanism he embodied.
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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.
Believing their story, John takes them into his home with the intention of safely escorting them to the village constable for further help. 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.
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Tonally Fanny Lye draws comparisons with Michael Reeves’ 1968 classic Witchfinder General. Here Clay creates an atmosphere of impending doom that is only heightened by his Olde English screenplay and the divine performances of a small and perfectly formed cast. 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 the dour Charles Dance reminiscent of two stags rutting in Autumn.
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But it’s the cinematic design of Fanny Lye that brings the horror home as Giorgos Arvanitis’ sublime cinematography slowly wraps the Lye’s cottage in mist as we near the film’s gruesome conclusion. 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 reforged into something new.