Director: Michael Winner
Script: Leslie Arliss and Michael Winner
Cast: Faye Dunaway, Alan Bates, John Gielgud, Denholm Elliot, Prunella Scales, Oliver Tobias, Glynis Barber
Running time: 95 minutes
Based on the book ‘Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton’ by Magdalen King-Hall, The Wicked Lady is a film that could only have been made in the eighties with the backing of a company such as Golan & Globus Productions. This is a case of Michael Winner does period drama with a bit of the buckling of the swash thrown in for good measure.
Barbara (Dunaway) arrives at a vast country estate to become her younger sister’s maid of honour. However, on seeing what her sweet sister (Barber) is about to inherit when she becomes married she begins to flirt outrageously with Lord Skelton (Elliot), and within 48 hours the weak-willed Lord is lusting desperately after the seductive older sister and falling out of love with poor Caroline.
After the hastily arranged marriage, the new Lady Skelton starts to take control of the estate pushing those closest to her, including her unfortunate new hubby, further away. However, having everything you want, including a title, comes at a price and it’s not long before the brazen Barbara is getting bored and looking for new kicks. About the same time as all this is going on a notorious highwayman is robbing more and more nobles in the area, much to the annoyance of everyone except Babs who decides that she too will take up that nefarious activity and get some new cheap thrills.
While out and about robbing minor royalty, she meets up with the original highwayman, Captain Jackson. They decide to split the booty between them and begin a passionate affair, which leads to all sorts of shady shenanigans and nocturnal adventures. But, like all crime sprees, Lady Skelton’s must eventually come to an end, but at what cost to herself and to those around her?
Playing out at some times like some sort of Regency era pantomime Winner’s film is visually arresting and always entertaining, at least in a kind of batty way. Peppered with a great cast of British character actors, in great costumes, surrounded by sumptuous sets, The Wicked Lady must have been one of the director’s most expensive films. I have to say that the period detail seems to be pretty good, both on the country estate and in a bustling London.
As one would expect from a director more closely associated with the more exploitative end of the cinematic spectrum, The Wicked Lady features plenty of gratuitous sex and nudity and a fair bit of fruity dialogue, with a lacing of violence overlain on top. And because Winner, at least at this stage in his career, never seemed to be able to take things too seriously, there’s a fair bit of farcical humour to boot.
The acting, as one would expect from all the classy thespians on offer, is uniformly good and everyone seems to be having fun with the bawdy script. Dunaway, in particular, seems to be relishing her rebellious role and Barber makes for some lovely window dressing. Sadly, she isn’t used as much as she should be here. Alan Bates is fun as Captain Jackson and Gielgud plays his role of the sniffy butler with his usual aplomb.
Winner employed one of the greatest cinemaphotographers of all time for this film, namely Jack Cardiff, who makes the most of some great locations (including North Mymms House), and sets to help tell a robust and ribald story. He also seems adept at getting extras to nicely ‘fill in’ some of the more complex scenes making for a few quite impressive set-pieces.
Overall The Wicked Lady is good fun, although at times I found myself thinking how they could have improved certain scenes, and the script at times was too silly for words. However, if you like costumed ‘carry-on’ type films then you’ll most certainly enjoy the film.
The picture quality of this DVD production was good, although there was signs of speckling here and there, and the sound was generally okay – maybe a little soft, here and there.
Second Sight are distributing The Wicked Lady on DVD. Sadly, there were no extras on the disc, which seems like a wasted opportunity to me.