Home > Reviews > FANNY LYE DELIVER’D – Thomas Clay


December 1, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the most obscure independent films to receive a ‘major’ soundtrack release in 2020 is Fanny Lye Deliver’d. Written and directed by the independent British filmmaker Thomas Clay, the film is described in press material as a ‘Puritan western,’ and is set in a bleak and isolated farm in rural Shropshire in the mid-1600s. Maxine Peake stars as Fanny, the young wife of the dour, humorless, but fanatically religious John Lye , played by Charles Dance. Their world is thrown into chaos following the unexpected arrival at the Lye home of two strangers, a young couple who are being doggedly pursued by a ruthless sheriff and his deputy. The chaste and virginal Fanny finds herself attracted to Thomas (Freddie Fox), the male half of the couple, and thus begins a personal and sexual awakening in Fanny, who starts to question her life, her relationship with her husband, and her devotion to God. The film was shot in 2017 and was fraught with problems from the start, including having their producer unexpectedly die, having their meticulous period-accurate sets washed away by a flood, and then by languishing for almost three years in post-production hell. Then, when the film was finally set to be released commercially after going through the festival circuit, the whole thing was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it finally staggered into release on streaming platforms in June 2020.

The most significant aspect of the film which needed to be finalized in post was the score. In an interview with Deadline in October 2019 Clay explained: “What really took time was composing the score. It became apparent that the score I had in my head was different from what I had imagined [in development]. It needed to be bigger. The visual style was retro, so I wanted the score to have recognizable themes and hooks, which have gone out of fashion and not a lot of composers are doing anymore. I spent months after editing watching movies and speaking to people, trying to find the right composer, but most were too established and completely beyond our budget level. We did find one composer but from the first demos it was apparent that it wasn’t what I had in mind. I had started to write some themes myself and it was becoming clearer to me what the music should be, which made it harder for someone else to do it. I made some demos and showed them to everyone, and we decided I would just do it myself. I studied 20th century music and composition at university, and behind the scenes on my other films I’ve had a hand in the music. But this proved to be a big undertaking. It took me a year to write the whole score”.

So, ultimately, Fanny Lye Deliver’d featured a score written by its director, and in doing so Clay becomes one of just a handful of directors for whom this is a thing – the others off the top of my head include John Carpenter, Clint Eastwood, and Alejandro Amenábar. Clay’s score is quite fascinating and quite brilliant; in order to maintain period authenticity Clay tried wherever possible to only use instruments that were in common use in the time period the film was set (with a bit of leeway), which led to him sourcing musicians from all over Europe who could play cornetts and sackbuts, recorders and citterns, lutes, hurdy-gurdys, and the viola de gamba. These instruments were augmented by a contemporary string-and-brass ensemble conducted by Anthony Weeden, and accompanied by vocal performances from the Oxford-based I Fagiolini early music choir.

All this may cause the unwary to think that Fanny Lye Deliver’d will be one of those weird, idiosyncratic, overly period scores, but in actual fact Clay’s work is terrific: while you can definitely tell that the instruments are not the conventional ones used in ‘normal’ scores, it is still brimming with emotion, has several recognizable themes, some moments of surprisingly effective action, some moments of even more surprisingly effective light horror dissonance, and several points of large-scale instrumental and choral power. Clay says that the idea was for every character to have their own instruments – ‘star instruments’ – and so Fanny, John, Thomas, Thomas’s wife Rebecca, and the Sheriff, are each depicted by one of the main instrumental ideas; the way Clay combines them as the score progresses is one of the key elements in how he musically conveys his central narrative.

Thematically, the score is dominated by the one introduced in the first cue, “Old Soldiers”. It’s a slow, simple piece, perfect for depicting the puritan lifestyle of the Lye family, and is mostly delivered by a solo renaissance trumpet backed by strings and the lightest of choral touches. There’s a hint of Ennio Morricone in some of the phrasing, as well as some superficial similarities to the melody of the traditional Swedish folk song-turned-hymn ‘How Great Thou Art,’ but it’s one of the most memorable melodies I’ve heard this year. There are numerous recapitulations of the theme later in the score, the best of which is undoubtedly the breathtaking “Second Morning,” which rises to utterly glorious heights of thematic instrumental majesty by the end, and is as compelling a depiction of a sunrise as I have ever heard.

Several cues intentionally pastiche the musical stylistics of Cromwell’s England. “Dressing Up” is a lively and unexpectedly playful dance for a plethora of period instruments. “Salve & Flesh” is a lovely piece of choral writing embellished by more period textures, and has a palpable sense of religious piousness to it, although the way Clay creates unusual harmonic dissonances with his instruments under the voices ensures that we know things are not quite right. “Medlars” begins with an almost Mediterranean feel through its various guitar-like textures – theorbos, citterns, and lutes – and as it develops it adopts a pleasant, bucolic, almost cheerful attitude that is wholly lovely.

“Fight!” is a brief but rather intense action sequence featuring a compellingly aggressive repeated ostinato that passes around the various period brass instruments, and is accompanied by shrill, intensely vicious blasts of sound. Later, the superb “Approach of the Sheriff” features a number of intimidating string and brass ostinatos, underpinned by bellicose percussion ideas and period instruments performing at the low ends of their registers, clearly illustrating that the Sheriff is a man to be taken seriously, and even feared. The thing even ends with a drum tattoo similar to those formerly heard at hangings and beheadings, as if to hammer the point home further. Interestingly, in the brilliant “The Sheriff’s Rapture” later in the score, these same ideas are completely turned on their head, and become a feverish, near-insane dance piece which seems to blend medieval folk tunes with something approaching a musical orgy.

The choir comes to the fore in “The Truth,” intoning solemnly but with great depth of feeling over a forlorn, but dramatic orchestral passage. This is followed by the centerpiece of the score, “The Ceremony,” which blends the choir, and the citterns and lutes, with a relentless staccato beat in the strings, and grows more intense and almost unbearably suspenseful as it develops, The whole thing seems to teeter on the lip of frenzy for its entire six minute running time, while also apparently building to something significant, inexorably turning up the intensity as it does so. The vague similarity between Clay’s ostinato and the famous Westminster Quarters chime also increases the sense of the piece being a countdown, and is very clever.

The woodwind flutters in “Retribution” are also classic Morricone, before the whole thing erupts into a mass of vivid dissonance and chaos, while “The Plea” plays like a piece of classic horror scoring, and is full of intricate layers of earsplitting brass, resounding choral chants, and heavily oppressive atmospherics. Elliot Goldenthal fans may find themselves drawn to this piece in particular.

The magnificent finale of the score contains its most lush and traditionally orchestral music and begins with “Minor Soldier,” a solemn and intimate statement of the main theme. This leads into “Fanny’s Choice,” a huge and sweeping piece of powerful drama that blends several of the main themes together, including Fanny’s theme and the ostinato for the Sheriff. Finally, “Fanny Lye Deliver’d” is awash in exquisite beauty, from the cut-glass tones of vocal soloist Grace Davidson, to the moving version of Fanny’s theme in the strings, to the fully orchestral finale, which sings to the heavens. The conclusive cue, “March to Joy,” is sort of a medieval-folk version of “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, complete with gruff male voices chanting ‘hoi hoi hoi’ in unison. It’s fascinating to hear the piece performed this way, but it is something of an anachronistic swizz considering it was written in 1824, almost 75 years after the year the film was set.

Ultimately, Fanny Lye Deliver’d is something of a revelation. For a composer like Thomas Clay – who isn’t a professional composer at all, and is better known as a writer and director – to have created a score with this much depth and creativity, this much sophistication, this much instrumental specificity and period accuracy, and this much emotion, is nothing short of miraculous. There are hints of other composer’s styles here and there, of course, but for the most part the whole score sounds fresh and original, which is something rare in 2020, and needs to be celebrated. Fanny Lye Deliver’d is one of the best dramatic scores of the year, and Thomas Clay is far-and-away my frontrunner for Breakthrough Composer of the Year. Do yourself a favor and check this out; you will be swept away to a forgotten corner of English history, where puritan values and religious dogma clash with then-sacrilegious views on feminism and sexuality in the most interesting of musical ways.

Buy the Fanny Lye Deliver’d soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Old Soldiers (1:41)
  • Dressing Up (1:54)
  • Salve & Flesh (2:04)
  • Fight! (0:54)
  • Medlars (4:11)
  • Second Morning (4:56)
  • Approach of the Sheriff (4:32)
  • The Truth (2:53)
  • The Ceremony (6:33)
  • Retribution (2:37)
  • The Plea (4:14)
  • The Sheriff’s Rapture (2:18)
  • Minor Soldier (2:17)
  • Fanny’s Choice (3:14)
  • Fanny Lye Deliver’d (3:17)
  • March to Joy (based on ‘Ode to Joy’ from Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op.125 by Ludwig van Beethoven) (5:54)

Running Time: 53 minutes 38 seconds

Pull Back Camera 5060254630649 (2020)

Music composed by Thomas Clay. Conducted by Anthony Weeden. Orchestrations by Thomas Clay and Anthony Weeden. Special vocal performances by Grace Davidson. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Album produced by Thomas Clay.

  1. December 1, 2020 at 9:49 am

    Thank you for a very in-depth review of this score. I came across it on Youtube and again on Spotify and although a few tracks are not so memorable, there are certainly enough tracks that are very entertaining and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next. Breathrough composer of the year is a strong contender with this one.

  1. January 26, 2021 at 9:00 am

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