Part historical character study, part home invasion thriller, Thomas Clay’s long-gestating third feature (first shot in 2015) is a folk horror fable set just after the English Civil War. Taking place almost entirely in a cavernous, thatched Shropshire farmhouse in 1657, Fanny Lye Deliver’d introduces Maxine Peake’s dutiful wife and mother as repressed yet capable, living under the command of her Puritan husband John (Game Of Thrones‘ Charles Dance).
Visibly older than Fanny and with a firm grip on his household, John controls his wife and their young son Arthur (Zak Adams) in an occasionally brutish manner that he learned from his time in the military. Fanny – who it’s implied suffered atrocities during the war – seems content with the protection granted by John at the cost of her independence.
Their fragile equilibrium is unbalanced by the arrival of Thomas and Rebecca (Freddie Fox and Sex Education’s Tanya Reynolds), a pair of young fugitives who have allegedly been robbed. By imitating a former soldier, Thomas earns the trust of John and shelters in their home, only to slowly overpower the family with his radically anti-monarchist teachings.
With its foggy, olde England setting (and a spoof 1970s censor certificate at the start of the film) Fanny Lye Deliver’d may in part feel like a pastiche, but this is far from a clear-cut genre film. Instead, Clay has tasked Peake with inhabiting a woman whose identity until now has been shaped and controlled by a violent patriarchy. Thomas’ talk of democracy and sexual equality doesn’t so much sway Fanny, but rather highlights her resilience, a trait that the actress wears readily on her face and strengthens with a stoic, superior performance.
Meanwhile, John experiences a complex journey of his own as his authority is stolen, although Dance maintains an icy exterior throughout. Fox and Reynolds capture the boundless optimism of the Levellers (a group of radical dissenters from the period) with ease – and let’s just say that Fox commits every inch of himself to a particular sex scene.
The cast’s dedication is equalled by Clay, who not only had the farmhouse custom built for the film, but arranged for its score to be performed exclusively by instruments from the period. He also hired costume designer Michael O’Connor (The Duchess, Jane Eyre) to replicate the broad hats and complicated collars of the Cromwellian era. Fanny Lye Deliver’d might have taken a while to arrive, but by drawing on both its 1970s aesthetic and 1600s setting, the film feels timeless in a way that makes for compelling viewing.
- Director: Thomas Clay
- Starring: Maxine Peake, Charles Dance, Tanya Reynolds
- Release date: June 26 (Digital)