The “strange attraction of danger and the unknown” may encompass a lot more to the titular 15th Century housewife than to her 21st century cinema goers; however the temptation of liberation, sex, and violence has proven withstanding. Somewhere between folk-horror and western, Fanny Lye Deliver’d is director Thomas Clay’s third feature, and screened as part of the Big Screen Competition at International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), following its premiere at London Film Festival in October 2019.
A welcoming and west-country female voiceover seduces us into the temptations of Ms. Fanny Lye (Maxine Peake). The setting is small, and delicately shrouded in a constant mist that embodies an unrelenting tension. Fanny lives on a small Shropshire farm, and feels small herself, as she bends to the orders of her puritanical and abusive husband, John Lye (Charles Dance). Upon the families return from Church one Sunday, their small world is turned upside down. Two naked strangers, newlyweds Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Reynolds of Sex Education), are found in the stable, inciting fear and wonder in Fanny, her son, and husband. Relative isolation and vulnerability drives the tension of the uncertain presence.
The year is 1657, though the specifics of British socio-political upheaval are nothing but a backdrop for the playful liberation that Thomas, and Rebecca our narrator, hint at, in a plot to indulge repressed Fanny. As they turn from guests to captors, Thomas’ apparent radicalism reveals to be little more than another side of the egotistic patriarchal coin, albeit one that indulges in more sex and drinking, with an equal amount of violence.
Though her supposed liberation is presented as the narrative drive, Fanny is disappointingly passive, and Peake’s stellar performance failed by the limiting script. The promised liberation which comes in form of a sex scene, like much of the feature, is uncomfortable and flat. Despite the nostalgic nod to exploitation flicks of a time before (going so far as to open with a retro BBFC rating card, classifying itself ‘X’), the satisfaction of seeing the puritans perverted on 35mm, feels more like a disorientating romp rather than a god-like deliverance.
Fanny Lye Deliver’d screened at IFFR 2020, pending UK release date
by Reba Martin
Reba Martin recently graduated Film Studies from Manchester School of Art, and freelances as a Writer, Programmer, and Barista. Her top recommended Netflix Category is “Wacky 80’s Movies With a Strong Female Lead”. Letterboxd / @discorebekah