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New Release Review [Digital] - FANNY LYE DELIVER’D

fanny lye deliver'd review
In 17th century Shropshire, a woman's eyes are opened to new possibilities by the arrival of a mysterious young couple.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Thomas Clay

Starring: Maxine Peake, Charles Dance, Freddie Fox, Tanya Reynolds

fanny lye deliver'd poster


Something of a British equivalent to Nicolas Winding Refn, writer/director Thomas Clay caught the attention of critics with his 2005 movie The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, with reviews devoting equal space to praising his technique and pouring scorn on his exploitative use of graphic sexual assault. Then came 2008's Soi Cowboy, which like Refn's Only God Forgives, was an obtuse thriller set in Bangkok that confounded most viewers. It seemed Clay may have taken early retirement, but he now returns with his most accessible movie to date, the period thriller Fanny Lye Deliver'd.

The decades following the English Civil War proved pivotal in the development of what we now call "The Modern Age". Large sections of the populace began to turn their backs on the established Church. Some formed new and even more puritanical Christian sects, taking their ideology to the New World, where it prospers to this day. Fuelled by an increase in scientific development, others rejected religion outright, finding themselves the targets of witch-hunters. The land became divided between the establishment, the pious and the enlightened. All three knock heads in Clay's film.

fanny lye deliver'd review


In 1657 Shropshire, housewife Fanny Lye (Maxine Peake) lives a life of outward comfort with her ex-soldier husband John (Charles Dance) and young son Arthur (Zak Adams). It might be argued that she has it better than most in 17th century England, but she pays for her food and shelter by enduring her husband's puritanical reign, often subjected to beatings and reminded of an immoral past life, which John claims to have rescued her from.

One Sunday, the Lyes return from Church to find a young couple - Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Reynolds) - hiding in their barn and clad in their clothes. John wants to run them off his land, but swayed by their account of being attacked and stripped of their possessions by bandits, Fanny begs her husband to show the youngsters mercy. John gives in, initially allowing them to stay for a single night, but after bonding with Thomas over nostalgic tales of fighting for Cromwell's forces against the Scots and Irish, and impressed by the young man's knowledge of scripture, he allows the couple to hang around.

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As you might expect, hints are dished out that suggest Thomas and Rebecca may not be all they seem. What is the strange trinket Thomas wears around his neck, and which he and Rebecca take such care to ensure stays in their possession? Is there truth to the local Sheriff's claims that the pair were involved in a mass orgy at a nearby tavern? Why does Fanny grow so uncomfortable in their presence?

fanny lye deliver'd review


Fanny Lye Deliver'd is a mish-mash of genres, owing much to westerns and folk-horror, but it's primarily an example of that sub-genre in which a stranger is welcomed into a home, only to then corrupt/liberate its inhabitants - think Pasolini's Teorema or Siegel's The Beguiled. Whether Thomas and Rebecca's influence on Fanny is one of corruption or liberation is down to your own ideology. Fanny isn't entirely sure herself. She's initially seduced by the young couple's sexual freedom, but comes to view Thomas as simply another male figure who seeks to manipulate and control her in a similar manner to her domineering husband - new philosophy, same old story.

In this way, Fanny Lye Deliver'd feels like a product of late '60s/early '70s British cinema, when filmmakers were beginning to question the sexual liberation of the '60s. In movies like Straight On till Morning and I'll Start Counting, the breed of handsome, foppish Jagger-lite young men who were adored by teeny-boppers were now exposed as the sort of deviants women should cross the road to avoid. Nothing's free, such films seemed to suggest, especially not sex.

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With its 35mm, hazy, zoom-heavy photography, courtesy of cinematographer Giorgos Arvanitis, Fanny Lye Deliver'd equally recalls '70s cinema. If you ever wondered what a Robert Altman directed folk-horror might look like, this provides something of a convincing answer. Shot on sun-baked summer days, it often resembles a spaghetti western, especially when the Sheriff (Peter McDonald) is introduced as a distant figure on the horizon, and a climactic intermingling of blood and mud is straight out of the Sergio Corbucci playbook.

fanny lye deliver'd review


Yet while Clay's film is a treat to gaze upon, 'tis not so soothing on the ears. Clay composes his own score for the film, and it proves his film's Achilles' heel. More befitting some '90s Kevin Costner western epic than an intimate psychological drama set in rural England, it's ludicrously out of place here, and too often the score swells to tell us what emotion we should be feeling. Equally distracting is a voice-over narration from Reynolds' Rebecca. While Reynolds' soothing brogue is a joy to listen to, most of the time she's simply repeating what we can see for ourselves on screen, and there are times where it completely takes us out of the moment, interrupting Clay's visual filmmaking with unnecessary verbal reinforcement.

Replace Clay's score, or remove it completely, and excise Reynolds' narration, and Fanny Lye Deliver'd would undoubtedly prove a far more effective and atmospheric piece of storytelling. These elements certainly don't completely derail what is a distinctive work however. From Peake's performance, a unique mix of ingenue innocence and world-weariness, to Arvanitis's gorgeous lensing, there's plenty to admire here. With John and Fanny and their young interlopers ultimately forced to join together upon the arrival of the sinister sheriff, Clay's film also proffers a warning that never grows old, that too often we bicker among ourselves over ideological discrepancies when the real threat comes from the establishment.

Fanny Lye Deliver'd is on UK Digital from June 26th.




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