Fanny Lye Deliver’d

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Fanny Lye Deliver'd
dir-scr Thomas Clay
prd Zorana Piggott, Robert Cannan, Philippe Bober, Michel Merkt, Joseph Lang
with Maxine Peake, Charles Dance, Freddie Fox, Tanya Reynolds, Zak Adams, Peter McDonald, Perry Fitzpatrick, Kenneth Collard
release UK 26.Jun.20
19/UK BFI 1h52

peake dance fox
london film fest

Watch it now...

fox and peake
Set in the brief period of Cromwell's Puritanical rule, this striking British film explores the nature of political and sexual freedom. Writer-director Thomas Clay inventively creates the period with matter-of-fact visuals and witty details, skilfully shot by Giorgos Arvanitis. There's a cleverly subtle present-day parallel in this war of ideas that may or may not be dangerous. Which makes this a seriously challenging, outrageous home invasion thriller.
In 1657 Shropshire, in the wake of the English Civil War, the timid but observant Fanny (Peake) runs a farm with her gruff ex-military husband John (Dance) and their mischievous son Arthur (Adams). One day while they're at church, Thomas and Rebecca (Fox and Reynolds) sneak into their farmhouse, naked and wounded after being robbed of everything they owned. Over the next week as they remain as uneasy guests, their progressive beliefs shake the brittle balance between Fanny, John and Arthur. And things take another turn when the High Sheriff (McDonald) pays a visit.
A limited cast and isolated setting add a theatrical sensibility, as characters circle each other playing a game in which words are weapons. Thomas is a quick-thinker who perhaps isn't telling the whole truth. As Rebecca confides in Fanny, a spark of naughtiness builds a rebellious bond between them. And of course Arthur understands more than his father thinks. In the middle of the film, there's a strikingly well-staged brawl that reverberates with a sense of desperation. Indeed, the actors maintain offhanded attitudes even within the strictures of these costumes and settings.

The dynamics between these characters is fascinating, as each takes a different view of religion. Dance is the imperious enforcer, speaking with harsh, calm confidence. As the interlopers, Fox and Reynolds have a strongly attractive charisma as young people who enjoy the impact of their free-thinking on this staid family. But of course Peake's Fanny is the focus of the tale, and her quiet observations are beautifully played, as is the way she thinks so carefully about all of this.

The question is whether these strangers are corrupting Fanny or freeing her. At the centre of this script is a war of ideas between those who believe in rules and those who celebrate liberty. Most intriguing is how both arguments swirl around Christianity's age-old tension between grace and the law. And while the story is narrated by Rebecca, Clay's attention is on how Fanny glimpses an ember of truth in these visitors' radical words, knowingly contrasted in Arthur's childlike curiosity and John's stubborn intractability.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 20.Jun.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall