The mist lies perpetually thick around Black Hill Farm in the county of Shropshire, home to Captain John Lye, a veteran of the English Civil War which saw King Charles I replaced by the force of Oliver Cromwell, his wife Fanny and their son Arthur, a devout and puritanical household where John sees the beating of his son as a duty which he does not enjoy.
Into this repressed but stable arrangement comes an unexpected flash of gunpowder, a stranger found in the barn upon their return from church on Sunday morning, bright-eyed Thomas Ashbury, set upon by thieves while he and his wife Rebecca were travelling to Bristol and then to the new world, their goods, horses and every stitch upon their back stolen.
A fierce man but a pious Christian, John grudgingly takes the strays in, but their presence changes the mood of the house and draws others to the farm with a warrant for the arrest of two accused of the crime of depravity; having hoped to leave before their pursuers arrived, Thomas and Rebecca require shelter a while longer and must secure their position until they are confident they are safe to travel.
Set in the year 1657 and filmed on location, Fanny Lye Deliver’d is written and directed by Thomas Clay, a period thriller of repression and liberation, of religion and heathens, Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds the chaotic catalyst who will bring strife to the upright Charles Dance and a costly emancipation to Maxine Peake, a woman bound by the Bible yet forbidden to read from it by the stain of her gender.
Like Funny Games transposed to the troubled English countryside it is as much a battle of wits as weapons, Fanny trying to protect her husband and son even as Thomas preaches of the light of god within, Fanny Lye Deliver’d a chimera of Brimstone and Treacle and The Piano, Fanny drawn to the primal power of the outsiders and their promise of a rebaptism of sin.
Set primarily in a single location with the narrative rotating the arrangements and alignments of the four very different characters, their shifting physical and emotional proximity, their competing desires for flesh and for retribution, though perhaps unnecessarily long at almost two hours Fanny Lye Deliver’d is carried well by the four leads, and is a showcase for low-budget filmmaking, focused on atmosphere, dialogue and performance over spectacle.