On a secluded farm in Shropshire, England in 1657 lives the Lye family: wife Fanny (Maxime Peake), her husband John (Charles Dance) and son Arthur. They live a spartan, quiet, puritanical life. John is the unquestioned patriarch of the house and rules the farm with severity and a deep devotion to scripture. The very foundation of the Lye families quiet and repressed existence comes under threat when two strangers – Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Reynolds) – appear desperate for help. The couple claims to have been robbed and left for dead, and despite hesitation from John, he agrees to take them in. Things go smoothly, though there are certainly underlying tensions as Thomas and Rebecca are noticeably more progressive than the Lyes. When the ruthless local sheriff comes to the farm looking for two outlaws, the intentions of Thomas and Rebecca are revealed, forever changing the dynamics at the Lye farm.
Fanny Lye Deliver’d has had a difficult time making it to cinema screens – the film spent a staggering three years in post-production – and it looked once like the film may never be completed at all. However, the film made its world premiere at the London Film Festival. It’s wonderful that Fanny Lye made it to light – Thomas Clay’s third film is an astonishing, twisted delight.
While writer-director Clay is certainly indebted to folk horror of the 1970s, Fanny Lye Deliver’d is truly refreshing. The film dances around multiple genres and modes as it deftly balances humour, drama, violence and suspense. The multitude of genre reflected in the story itself. The film constantly keeps you guessing, as there are constant shifts in power, and questions to where evil lies. The film is shot rather classically but is rife with lovely visual flourishes – for example, some glorious quick zooms recall classic western shootouts. The film’s score (also by Clay!) is delicious, at times playful and others deathly serious, and always strange, the music elevates the film nicely.
While the films lovely stylistic choices keep it fresh, it is Maxine Peake’s shattering performance as Fanny Lye that takes this film to greatness. This is largely a film about Fanny’s personal revolution. At every turn her understanding of the world is challenged – sometimes sexually, sometimes physically, sometimes mentally, and always compellingly. Peake is remarkable. She is ferocious, blending strength and subtleties as a woman simultaneously yearning for knowledge and an awakening, as well as her own survival.
Too much cannot be said about what a joy Fanny Lye Deliver’d is. That’s not to say the film is lighthearted – in fact, it’s tremendously graphic, with flashes of nudity and intense violence. But Clay’s wonderful directing and script is full of fascinating choices that keep even some of the more predictable moments feeling fresh and inspired. This is a film about growing, evolving and having everything you understand in the world turned upside down. Thomas Clay’s film before Fanny Lye was released 11 years ago, and I only hope we don’t have to wait nearly as long for his next one. This film is grotesque, wicked, stark, engaging, hilarious and insane. It’s also completely and utterly wonderful.
Directed by: Thomas Clay
Written by: Thomas Clay
Cast: Maxine Peake, Charles Dance, Freddie Fox, Tanya Reynolds