The slow-moving period piece Fanny Lye Deliver’d is a film mired in pain.
The year is 1657. The place: Shropshire, in the West Midlands region of England. Fanny Lye (Maxine Peake) is a hard-working farmer’s wife, living a life of Puritan stricture. Her husband, John (Charles Dance), is a cruel former army captain returned from war with a limp. The couple has a 10-year-old son, Arthur (Zak Adams). When it comes to both his wife and his son, John has no hesitation in dishing out corporal punishment.
Returning from church one day, they notice smoke billowing from the chimney of their home. John discovers a young man, Thomas Ashbury (Freddie Fox), and woman, Rebecca Henshaw (Tanya Reynolds), in their barn. Suspicious, John allows them to stay overnight after Thomas tells him how they were set upon and stripped naked. But one night soon becomes an extended period. Thomas has a vastly different reading of the Bible than John. Thomas is into hijinks, skulduggery and fornication. Things come to a head when the ruthless sheriff (Peter McDonald) pays Thomas and Tanya a visit.
Subterfuge and violence are mainstays of Fanny Lye Deliver’d. While it is a story of toil and heartache, it’s also one of revelation. Fanny grows strength through her ordeal. Her life changes in a heartbeat. I became more invested in the journey the longer the film went.
I appreciated the adult characterisations in particular. Charles Dance is unyielding as the father and Maxine Peake is resolute as the mother. A mischievous anti-establishment streak characterises Freddie Fox’s portrayal of Thomas Ashbury, while Tanya Reynolds brings a level of rebelliousness to her representation of Rebecca Henshaw.
I thought though that scriptwriter and director Thomas Clay became too self-indulgent at times. One lengthy monologue was a turn off and, overall, the picture seemed long. Nevertheless, as an insight into the harsh times, Fanny Lye Deliver’d isn’t without cut-through.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.