In 17th Century England, a young couple (Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds) find themselves on the run from puritan law. Taking shelter with a religious family consisting of Fanny Lye (Maxine Peake), John Lye(Charles Dance) and son Arthur (Zak Adams), the huge spiritual differences between the fugitives and their unwitting hosts threaten to change all of their lives.
The ambiguity around Fanny Lye’s enlightenment is fascinating. Tom seeks to liberate Fanny from her stifling marriage but definitely has his own gratification in mind, including a deep need to see John humiliated. John might be a vindictive, abusive husband but he is a pitiable wretch with nothing besides his family and his strict faith. However as the film nears it’s climax the tension becomes more straightforward, Fanny’s liberation more clear, and so the drama becomes less interesting. There are some dastardly villains that need thwarting and the human cost of vengeance and change is lost somewhat.
What remains consistent throughout is the exceptionally high quality of the film making. The camera glides around the small farm, creating a gorgeously consistent world. The action is layered so that every frame is rich. This is a living, breathing and moving setting. Thematically the film recalls The Witchfinder General or The Beguiled, but aesthetically it’s more Days of Heaven. A gorgeous looking period film.
The dialogue is superb, recalling the exquisitely well researched dialogue of the Witch. The actors perform this dialogue with astounding authenticity. Maxine Peake is often not the focus of the action on screen but her compelling performance ensures we are always locked into her perspective. Hers is a beguiling but fascinating performance. Freddie Fox is also outstanding as the good-hearted but spiteful young revolutionary. He preaches passionately but is capable of great humility.
Fanny Lye Deliver’d is a beautiful period film with a tense plot, compelling characters and a detail-rich setting. A great thriller, a revealing period piece and a fantastic character study.