Review: Fanny Lye Deliver'd
Thomas Clay's period drama starring Maxine Peake is part home invasion, part spiritual debate
Written by Sarah Dobbs
Returning home from church, Fanny Lye (Maxine Peake) and her abusive Puritan husband John (Charles Dance) spot something strange – there’s smoke coming from their chimney, though they didn’t leave a fire burning. Ominously, a voice-over lets us know that something bad is about to happen. But what unfolds isn’t quite what you’d expect, and the identity of the villain turns out to be pretty fluid.
Part home invasion thriller, part spiritual debate, writer/director Thomas Clay’s third feature is, ostensibly, about the title character’s journey from misery to liberation. As the Lyes get to know their uninvited guests – charismatic Ranter couple Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Reynolds) – the cracks start to show in Fanny’s placid, obedient façade, until an intense (and explicit) rape shatters her worldview for good. When everything, inevitably, explodes into violence, she discovers she’s become a different woman.
But something about it rings hollow. Though Peake does her best, Fanny just doesn’t feel like a real person. That ominous voice-over? It’s not Fanny’s voice, it’s Rebecca’s, recounting the events of the film from a distant future. Fanny herself doesn’t get that much of a voice, and so her fate feels unearned.
There’s a stagey, theatrical feel to the whole film: the dialogue is declamatory, while the action takes place entirely in the Lye family’s farmhouse, with a cast you could fit in a minibus. (You probably wouldn’t ask Peake and Dance to pile into one, but in theory, they’d fit.) The score, written by Clay and performed using only authentic 17th century instruments, is obnoxiously intrusive, often to the point of absurdity. And while the effect involved in building the farmhouse specifically for the production is laudable, it’s a little too obvious how deliberate the production design is.
Drama aside, the horror elements here are passable, if predictable. There’s some half-decent gore, and at least one moment of proper shock, but as it’s all in service of that loose-jointed, empty pseudo-celebration of an ending, none of it is particularly effective.
Available on DVD on 24th August.
Director: Thomas Clay
Screenwriter: Thomas Clay
Cast: Maxine Peake, Chares Dance, Freddie Fox, Tanya Reynolds
Distributor: Vertigo Releasing
Running Time: 111 minutes