★★★½ - STUFF
- Fanny Lye Deliver'd: 17th Century tale an oddity, artefact and unexpected treat -
We are in England, after the Civil War, when royalty had been defeated and, for half-a-decade or so, the country was ruled by a parliament with no monarch claiming any “divine right to rule”, as the recently executed Charles the First had.
In an isolated farm house, more or less permanently cloaked in mist and with not much but a few cows, sheep and chickens for neighbours, a fairly unhappy family unit are making their way in the world. The wife and mother, Fanny, has seemingly learned to keep whatever her own personality might be well hidden from the unthinking tyrant she is married to.
He, John, is a veteran of the wars, a devout Christian and a man incapable of much facial expression other than a glower or a glare. The unhappy couple share a son, Arthur, who seems to exist for little reason other than to be shouted at and beaten by his dad, or to be protected and indulged by his mum.
Into this sodden, dour and relentlessly pious world come two strangers, naked as the day they were born and obviously telling a complete pack of porkies when they avoid a thrashing from John by spouting a load of old rubbish about being robbed on the side of the road of everything they own, including the clothes off their backs.
John, clearly without a skerrick of the good sense he believes himself to have, invites the pair to stay in the barn for a night. And from there, Fanny Lye Deliver'd unfurls as a contest of ideas between the old world and the new, as a home invasion thriller and as a slow-burning folk-horror that threatens to descend into bloodshed and chaos for a long time, before it quite suddenly very nearly does.
Doing good work to hold this unlikely and often unwieldy whole together are Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) as John, and Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds as the duplicitous visitors. But the film revolves around the slow awakening of the title character and the secrets she has been keeping from John that might now be brought into the light. In the undisputed lead, Maxine Peake (Peterloo) hands in a performance that defines and gives purpose to the entire enterprise. Fanny Lye is her story – and Peake delivers.
Writer/director Thomas Clay (Soi Cowboy) can hardly be called a restless or driven soul. Fanny Lye Deliver'd is only his third feature in 17 years. But it is easily his best and most complete film, drawing on staging and ideas familiar to anyone who grew up watching the classic horrors of the 1960s and ‘70s – particularly Michael Reeves' The Witchfinder General – which it gleefully references.
Fanny Lye Deliver'd is an oddity, an artefact and – if you're in the mood – an unexpected treat. I can't give it any sort of unqualified recommendation, but, if you like it at all, then I think you'll probably like it a lot.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
Fanny Lye Deliver’d is now playing at Light House Petone & Cuba!