Fanny Lye Deliver'd (4 stars)

Fanny Lye Deliver'd

Maxine Peake and Charles Dance are superb in a tense, well-crafted British western from Thomas Clay

Fanny Lye Deliver'd has been a labour of love for writer-director Thomas Clay and it shows where it matters most – on the screen. Some four years after the challenge of its rain-sodden Shropshire shoot and tangled post-production, it finally emerges as an atmospheric, involving and meticulously crafted British period drama. Clay has described it as a 'puritan western'. Imagine Witchfinder General crossed with a flinty Clint Eastwood revenge saga and you have a sense of what Clay has achieved.

The stifling puritanism of the Cromwellian era has been little visited by British filmmakers. Why remains a mystery, given it is a period rife with conflict, persecution and social change. Clay makes much of those themes in the tale of a twisted paradise under siege in 1657.

John Lye (Charles Dance) is a former captain in Cromwell's army who now lives on a farm deep in the countryside with his wife Fanny (Maxine Peake) and their young son Arthur (Zak Adams). He is a dour, sanctimonious character and she has spent her life knowing her place in a man's world. Two naked fugitives emerge from the woods and throw themselves on the mercy of these good folks. The seductive Thomas (Freddie Fox) has a smile on his lips and a twinkle of mischief in his eyes, whilst his 'wife' Rebecca (Tanya Reynolds) is a willing player in their games. As John starts to fear these 'licentious heretics', Fanny is drawn to their irreverence and intoxicating sense of liberation.

Clay carefully builds the tension in a tale of shifting allegiances and bloody retribution. Clay also composed the rousing full orchestral score that creates growing unease. Add to that four excellent, finely matched central performances, and the result is a small triumph of independent British filmmaking.

Available to watch on demand from Fri 26 Jun.

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