A period drama not focused on the landed gentry is a welcome change. Fanny Lye Deliver’d focuses on its titular protagonist’s life in 1657 rural Shropshire; after the English Civil War, she lives self-sufficiently with her deeply puritanical husband – a former captain left with a permanent limp following his time in Cromwell’s army – and their son. However, the political upheaval has unearthed all sorts, from law enforcement hell-bent on stamping out all but the purest believers and the freethinking individuals keen to use the Interregnum as a new start. When two of the latter – pursued by the former – show up at the Lyes’ farm, a folk horror hell slowly unfolds.
Fanny Lye is gorgeously shot; the intermittent mist controls exactly what one sees and hints at deeper threats beneath. Unfortunately, this dread is undercut by lack of clarity around the motives – the reveal of the stranger’s motives never feels fully resolved, and their methods feel at odds with the results.
British acting royalty Maxine Peake and Charles Dance are, unsurprisingly, a joy to watch. It is unfortunate that Peake is given little to do aside from reacting to those around her; while Fanny’s mettle shines through the subservience she is forced into, and her lack of agency highlights the circumstances of women in her status and day, it proves frustrating viewing. Captain John Lye is solidly in Dance’s repertoire, but his stoic venom still captivates. The uninvited guests have more uneven characterisation, though Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds have fun with the contradictions and freedoms in contrast to the Lye’s straight-laced lifestyle.
Fanny Lye Deliver’d is too uneven to fully embrace either folk horror or historical drama; that said, its beautiful cinematography, uncompromising nastiness, and excellent performances make it one to seek out.
CAST: Maxine Peake, Charles Dance, Freddie Fox, Tanya Reynolds
DIRECTOR: Thomas Clay
WRITER: Thomas Clay
SYNOPSIS: During the Interregnum, a Cromwellian family’s life is turned upside down after two mysterious strangers arrive.