Fanny Lye (Maxine Peake) lived in the sixteen-hundreds, around the time of Oliver Cromwell's reign in England which was a period of great explorations in intellectual and theological matters, but also one of terrible oppression that saw many put to the sword or hanged for not behaving within strict parameters that could turn on a sixpence. Fanny was the wife to an older man, John (Charles Dance), who was what you would call a puritan by the standards of the era, he was teaching their young son to follow in his footsteps and kept his wife on a short leash, figuratively speaking. But one day, as they were out at church, they returned to find a couple hiding in their farmhouse barn...
Thomas Clay attempted to make a big splash in the movie world with his feature debut The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, but despite making its centrepiece a gratuitously violent home invasion, it remained obscure except to a small coterie who could not make up their minds whether it was daring and provocative or the sort of thing adolescents would find stimulating their nascent critical faculties, i.e. a bit naff and unnecessary. A decade and a half onwards and Clay had only made two more films, suggesting it was a struggle to get stuff like this made (or maybe how difficult it is to get any non-mainstream movie off the ground), and here again opinions were divided.
He evidently had not got the home invasion plot out of his system, and sought to perfect it further with Fanny Lye, Deliver'd, a piece that flirted with historical horrors like Witchfinder General (or maybe Mark of the Devil) then would throw in a twenty-first century notion or line of dialogue to add a disorienting quality to what was actually a fairly simple yarn of a woman's forced social awakening. With a cast of thespians who were far from amateurs, this was put across with some conviction, and that acting was one of the strengths, especially from Peake and Dance who essentially played heroine and antagonist until someone more powerful came along and upset them even more than the couple (Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds) who show up starkers and asking for shelter from moral guardians who happen to have a lot of power in the land.
The centrepiece in this was a night of debauchery where the interlopers revealed their true colours and performed a parody of the Christian communion, laced the wine with "shrooms" as they are anachronistically termed, and started seducing the confused Fanny in front of her tied up, furious husband and child. This is enough to set her emancipation in motion, but also reminded you of orgy sequences in sixties and seventies movies where they were going as far as the actors were prepared to go, but it still came across as a bit daft (and the stars here did go further than their spiritual predecessors without it going all hardcore porn, though it's close). That eagerness to shock was not exclusive to Clay by any means, and sometimes it can be effective, but the pretensions to having Mrs Lye go on a "journey" that made her a more rounded person than she was before made more sense in a context of centuries after this was set. Maybe a sense of humour would have helped, but for all the flaws, it wasn't dull, and we can forgive a lot for that. Music by Clay (slightly over the top, but you have to admire his jack of all trades dedication to the tasks in hand).
[This will be released on the 26th on Curzon Home Cinema as part of EdFilmFest @Home but also the following platforms: