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Thomas Clay's 'The Delivered' Explores the Concept Of a Puritan Western

February 23, 2021
3 min read time

Where does an idea come from? Maybe it’s a conversation you overhear at a party, or inspiration strikes while on a long walk.

For those who write history, an idea is often sparked by something you read. Whether it’s an entire book or just a small paragraph, something ignites the creative part of the brain and the screenwriter thinks, “This is a movie!”

For writer-director Thomas Clay, the spark for his most recent film The Delivered culminated when he read the book The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution by Christopher Hill.

“The book talks about religious sects in the mid-17th century; all these different groups. I wanted to make a film about it, but couldn’t find the right way in,” Clay says. The desire to tell a story around this time period sat with him for quite awhile until he decided to approach the story like a Puritan western.

The Delivered takes place on an isolated farm on the west side of England where a man, woman and their son live a strict Puritan lifestyle. Set in the 1650s just after the English Civil War, the country is ruled by Oliver Cromwell, whose puritanical law has introduced radical ideas for religion.

Fanny (Maxine Peake) is the matriarch in this oppressive marriage, whose world is turned upside down when two strangers arrive on their property. These two strangers, Rebecca (Tanya Reynolds) and Tom (Freddie Fox), are hiding from a merciless sheriff who's following the tyrannical rule set forth by Cromwell.

While John (Charles Dance), the family patriarch, allows the two to stay on the farm, his overbearing religious ways soon comes in conflict with the two strangers' more liberal ways. John, as a strict religious man, is constantly challenged by Tom and Rebecca, whose sometimes seemingly innocent actions seem to defy the firm rules of the household.

Creating the world through research

In an unfamiliar time period, with a small cast and limited locations, where does a writer begin creating the world?

Clay used the book that sparked his interest as the jumping off point in his research. He read the references from that book and looked for other possible sources of information.

“Every book has references that have other books and you learn as you go along,” Clay says.

He reached out to a series of consultants, including a professor who taught ancient literature, who introduced new ideas and were familiar with the religious sect in the film.

When it came to the Internet, Clay used it to get a broad picture and find references, but “to get into the deep research, you find a lot there’s not online. You tend to go back to the books because there’s information you can’t get elsewhere.”

The research ensured the story remained authentic, but set pieces don’t tell the story — it’s the characters. And that’s where Clay begins.

Where writing begins

Clay’s method is to begin with a synopsis and he generally writes about one or two pages of the story. That’s not where it ends, though. As the research continues, he expands gradually until his synopsis spans eight or nine pages.

“At that point, I’ll spend a lot of time researching historical commentary and read pamphlets to get into the heads of the characters at the time. (For The Delivered) I did a draft of the script and then brought in historical and language consultants, three of them, and got their views.”

Based on these discussions, he would then do another draft and continuously get more feedback until he ended up with a version he liked.

While there was plenty of research conducted on this time period, Clay admits, “There were two characters who were a little less authentic because they almost exist outside of the film.” This included the sheriff, as he is an archetype of the British cinema.

When it came time to shoot, Clay didn’t find the need to make any changes to accommodate unforeseen factors. That is, with one exception.

He says, “On the whole, there was a scene between two characters and it’s based on one of the documentaries I watched, such as the scene with the domesticated pigs. The pigs on set weren’t doing what we needed, so things had to change in that scene. A lot of the scene had to be cut. The actors had the freedom to improvise in the moment and it worked.”

Authenticity

History is Clay’s favorite genre, so it’s no wonder he enjoyed the process and tried to find authenticity in the story and the characters. In such a violent and oppressive time in England’s history, Clay could call on a number of parallels to modern society’s notions of personal, political and sexual freedom.

Overall, he doesn’t want to be prescriptive to the takeaways he wants the audience to walk away with. The film tells its story, which can be interpreted how the viewer sees fit.

“I didn’t want the film to be a history lesson, but rather to inspire people to learn more. It would be nice if people had more interest in the 17th century and the politics of the time.”

The Delivered is available now on streaming services.

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