sat 25/05/2024

Fanny Lye Deliver’d review - blistering English civil war western | reviews, news & interviews

Fanny Lye Deliver’d review - blistering English civil war western

Fanny Lye Deliver’d review - blistering English civil war western

Thomas Clay delivers a potent pastoral drama by way of a house-invasion horror

Ten years in the making, Thomas Clays third feature, starring Charles Dance and Maxine Peake, is a remarkable and potent example of genre-splicing British independent filmmaking. 

The story opens in 1657. Cromwell is in power and, on a small, fog-bound farmstead in Shropshire, lives put-upon housewife Fanny Lye (Peake). Her much older husband John (Dance) is a bible-bashing brute who, with cane-whip frequently in hand, rules over the lives of Fanny and that of their child Arthur (young talent Zak Adams) with puritanical zeal. 

Their simple life is turned upside down by a young couple, discovered naked as Adam and Eve, hiding in the Lyes’ barn. Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Reynolds) are on the lam from The High Sheriff (Peter McDonald) for preaching radical ideas. Thomas preaches a gospel of heaven on earth, where man and woman are equal, and sex isnt confined to the marriage bed - a message that provides Fanny with a damascene awakening. Charles Dance as John Lye in Fanny Lye Deliver'dIt should be no surprise that Peake is exceptional in the title role, exuding a brooding mixture of quiet rage and despair. Dance meanwhile adds impressive complexity to his role as the uber-patriarch, managing to elicit sympathy, despite his characters unyielding cruelty. 

Clays keen attention to historical detail immerses us in the period. Hes gone to painstaking efforts, including an accurate construction of the thatched-roof farm that used building methods of the time, and writing a score that features instruments from the reign of Cromwell. 

But Clay is playing a two-hander. As much as he faithfully recreates Cromwells reign, he also evokes the Civil War films of the 60s and 70s, such as The Blood on Satans Claw and The Witchfinder General, especially in the increasing moments of violence as the drama unfolds. 

Its hard not to think of Ben Wheatleys trippy English Civil War drama A Field in England (perhaps because both have scenes involving magic mushrooms), or the works of Peter Strickland. But, while reminiscent of their work, Clays craft is very much his own. Using the framework of a house-invasion horror, Clay proves to be as radical as Milton and subversive as Bunyan in his exploration of one of Britains most turbulent periods, only made sharper by the current state of the world. 

Clays previous works Soi Cowboy and the controversial The Great Ecstasy of Robert Charmichael were cine-literate, but frustrating. Fanny Lye Deliverd on the other hand manages to demonstrate exceptional filmmaking skills whilst delivering a captivating plot thats brimming with ideas and a stand-out lead performance.


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