***No ending spoilers***
This is a British independent film, written and directed by Thomas Clay. It is set in 17th Century England just after the civil war, and stars two of Britain’s finest actors, Maxine Peake, and Charles Dance. With my interest in the period, and having seen the excellent casting, I was excited to be able to watch this free on TV, courtesy of Channel 4.
The scene is rural Shropshire, the year 1657. Cromwell rules in England, and the Puritans enforce religious observance. They are against any other religious beliefs, and do not agree with revelry, drunkenness, or excessive celebrations. Some ordinary people opposed the Puritan restrictions. They embraced ideas about female equality, free love, and asserted that there was no heaven or hell, only earthly life. To the Puritans, they were heretics and blasphemers.
Fanny Lye is married to Captain John Lye, a man who served with distinction in the Parliamentary Army and returned home to buy a farm and land in the county. Despite her poor background and lowly upbringing, he married Fanny, giving her security as his wife, and also a son, Arthur. But he is a hard man, and a strict Puritan. He beats both Fanny and Arthur for the slightest reason, and regards her to be his property.
Returning from church one Sunday, the family is surprised to find two strangers in their house. They had arrived naked, and stolen clothes to wear. The young man claims that he and his wife were robbed on the road to Salisbury, and asks to stay until they are able to continue their journey. He also says he served in Cromwell’s regiment in the war, so Captain Lye takes pity on him.
But when men arrive at the farm looking for two heretics who are wanted for fornication and religious crimes, the young man takes Arthur hostage, threatening to kill him if they are betrayed. The men are the local constable, the High Sheriff of Shropshire, and his assistant. The Sheriff holds a warrant to arrest and execute heretics, and anyone harbouring them. But Captain Lye refuses him entry, claiming to have not seen any strangers.
After this incident, the film takes a darker turn. The young couple stay on at the farmhouse, and the atmosphere changes to one of great tension. Afraid that they will kill his wife and son, the enraged captain tries to overpower them, but is injured and securely tied up. He is then forced to listen as his wife is seduced by the teachings of the new religion, and then made to watch while she makes love with both the man and woman at the same time.
He bides his time to take his revenge, but nothing works out as we expect it to.
I really enjoyed this film. The atmosphere of repressive 17th Century England is second to none. Set design and scenery is completely convincing, as is every member of the small cast, especially Maxine Peake on brilliant form. Yes, it has one sex scene, and some sudden and brutal violence. But it is all in context, and no worse that you would see on any modern TV drama.
Yet another ‘small’ film that shows there is more to see than the big blockbusters that are so popular.
Here is a trailer.