Film review: Thomas Clay's Fanny Lye Deliver'd isn't averse to drawing blood

Maxine Peake in Fanny Lye Deliver'd
Maxine Peake in Fanny Lye Deliver'd

SHOT Largely in a single location – a claustrophobic 17th-century farmhouse – Fanny Lye Deliver'd in an engrossing chamber piece about a common woman, forcibly blinkered to her power and potential, who faces unspeakable violence in a time of revolution.

Maxine Peake delivers a compelling lead performance as a Puritan's wife, who believes it is a grievous sin to challenge her husband's authority, but the most remarkable element of writer-director Thomas Clay's third film is the period detail.

The farm was hand-built with authentic materials from the ground up in a carefully landscaped location to allow Clay and his team to choreograph gorgeous single-take camera sequences at the mercy of natural light and the wintry elements.

Costumes were hand-dyed and hand-stitched while instruments from the era realise an intrusive orchestral score, also composed by Clay, layering strings with cornetts and sackbuts.

A taut script draws on years of research and the expertise of historical consultants to reflect the radicalism of the era but Clay's writing occasionally abandons authenticity for an unnecessary pithy putdown ("I'd lose the attitude if I were you!") before the film descends into hellish retribution for the shocking final act.

John Lye (Charles Dance), a former captain in the English Civil War, presides over his remote Shropshire farm with a steely glare and an iron fist. He fervently upholds Puritan stricture and bows down only to God, admonishing young son Arthur (Zak Adams) for submitting to his subservient wife, Fanny (Peake).

"Never let a woman best you boy," growls the domineering master.

The hushed order is thrown into disarray by the arrival of two naked and bloodied strangers, Thomas Ashbury (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca Henshaw (Tanya Reynolds), who claim to be the victims of highway robbery.

When John learns that Thomas also served in the military to uphold the glory of Oliver Cromwell's republic, he permits the interlopers to stay one night in his barn.

Soon after, Thomas and Rebecca witness John disciplining Fanny and Arthur with a birch across their exposed backs as "his godly duty to keep them on the righteous path".

The enigmatic duo are compelled to intervene.

As the sun rises over the farm, a preening popinjay (Peter McDonald), who introduces himself as The High Sheriff for the Council of State, arrives on horseback, searching for "a pair of licentious heretics" who participated in a sinful display at a local tavern.

Fanny Lye Deliver'd captures some of the menace of Clay's controversial and deeply divisive debut feature, The Great Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael. Brutality serves the narrative here, sparked by a scene of shroom-fuelled hedonism.

Peake and Dance immerse themselves in their roles while Fox preaches "perfect libertinism" in captivating sermons that momentarily avert our gaze from his distractingly whitened teeth.

Clay's impressively staged picture bares its pearly whites, snarls and isn't averse to drawing blood.

FANNY LYE DELIVER'D (18, 111 mins) Thriller/Horror/Drama/Romance. Maxine Peake, Charles Dance, Freddie Fox, Tanya Reynolds, Zak Adams, Peter McDonald. Director: Thomas Clay.

Released: June 26 (streaming and available to download from Amazon Prime Video, Curzon Home Cinema, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft Store, PlayStation Store, Sky Store, Virgin Media)

RATING: 7/10