The lusty, bawdy, epic story of England's legendary highwayperson Lady Barbara Skelton, who married a nobleman, lusted after a highway-man, and sought the love of the only man she could never have..... Humorous action drama. A remake of Leslie Arliss' 1945 film with Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, Patricia Roc, and Griffith Jones.
"It's quite fashionable now for husbands and wives to have separate rooms."
Bless you Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. If it weren't for these guys and Cannon Pictures, we wouldn't have Director Michael Winner and his contributions to 'Death Wish 2, 3, and 4' and we certainly wouldn't have 1983's 'The Wicked Lady.' Clearly no expense was spared to bring this period adventure film about an English Lady who posed as a deadly highwayman to movie screens. While this movie may have had a significant budget, one could argue that the final film is lacking a certain sense of taste. With how much fun this movie is having, any concerns about decorum should be left at the door, you'll ruin the ride.
It's really hard being rich. Poor Lady Barbara (Faye Dunaway) is a beautiful woman that can command the attention of any man she looks at including the already engaged Sir Ralph Skelton (Denholm Elliott). Ralph in the heat of passion dumps his bride-to-be Caroline (Glynis Barber) and swiftly makes Barbara his wife. Barbara quickly has a case of buyer's remorse as on her wedding day she meets the dashing Kit Locksby (Oliver Tobias). Unable to do anything about her situation, Barbara settles into a dull life of boredom in the English countryside. Rather than taking an interest with the estate, embroidery, or the helping preach the way of the lord alongside the servant Hogarth (Sir John Gielgud), Lady Barbara seeks a life of adventure. She gets her chance for adventure by dressing as a man in a mask and arming herself with two pistols to become a highwayman looting carriages as they travel the isolated back roads.
The only problem with Lady Barbara's late night antics is they draw the attention of legendary highwayman Lucky Jerry Jackson (Alan Bates). Rather than be bitter rivals the two decide to team up and split the spoils as they take down bigger and more daring scores. It isn't long before the two become lovers risking their lives as well as Lady Barbara's high society position. As careful as she is, Lady Barbara's late night rendezvous are noticed by Hogarth who then threatens everything she's worked to build. On top of Hogarth's steely watchful eyes, Barbara must sort out Caroline and her looming affections towards Ralph and even the return of her one true love, Kit. Can Barbara manage all of these facets of her life while continuing with her true passion for robbing rich people blind?
Pretty much from frame one any viewer of this film is going to have a complete understanding of what to expect. You will see beautiful replica 17th century sets, intricately detailed costuming, extravagant wigs, some stunning cinematography by Jack Cardiff and a fully nude woman chased from her lover's bed and around a maypole as Denholm Elliott rides by on his horse bemused at the sights around him. All of that happens before the opening credits have completed. This pattern of sorts is pretty much how the entire movie plays out. You get a little bit of costume melodrama, a bit of merriment, some action, and then bare breasts. The nudity really wouldn't be an issue if it wasn't for how these scenes are filmed, often leaving little doubt where the audience should be looking because there simply isn't room for anything else on screen. Then you have the infamous climactic whip fight between Faye Dunaway and a topless Marina Sirtis. Is there a reason for the future Deanna Troi to be topless? No, not really, she just is out there nude sailing a whip around her head as a hundred people watch and cheer her on. It feels exploitive but at the same time even Faye Dunaway looks like she's enjoying getting smacked around with a whip - so I'm not sure if I should be entertained or offended by this scene.
Considering the depiction of 17th century women in various states of undress, I'm actually surprised that the violence of this film is as restrained as it is. In fact the violence is down right tame compared to the rest of the film. On one hand 'The Wicked Lady' tries to be a straight melodrama with dedicated performances and a rousing orchestral score, and then it tries to become a cheep period adventure romance that one would expect to find on Cinemax late at night. The tone is a bit mismatched in this way. Had they amped up the violence a little more and just went full on ridiculous, maybe this film's reception could have gone over better. Even the highway robbery scenes come off more goofy than thrilling. More than once I caught myself humming the "Dennis Moore" theme song from 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' as Jerry Jackson and The Wicked Lady rode around on horseback robbing rich people. I desperately wanted one of them to cry out "Give me your lupins!"
It's rather amazing this film assembled the cast it pulled together given the salacious nature of the story and script. Everyone from Faye Dunaway to Denholm Elliott to Sir John Gielgud (of all people) look like they're having a great time with this production. Apparently the filmmakers even tried to rope in Gregory Peck but he was unavailable! Everyone is committed to their roles and does their best to make things lively and fun. The guy probably having the best time in this movie is Alan Bates as the dashingly dangerous Jerry Jackson. While Faye Dunaway steals most of her scenes with her gigantic hair, Alan at least gets to chew a lot of scenery as he makes his best impersonation he can of a modern Errol Flynn. Then you have the assured direction of Michael Winner. I have to give the man credit for pulling this production together and not being above making the film completely ridiculous.
With everything that made its way to the final cut of this film, it's difficult to call 'The Wicked Lady' a "good" movie. Instead, I will say it is a completely entertaining movie through its entire 98 minute runtime. Given that this is a Cannon release, the character of this film shouldn't be all that surprising. If you're a fan of the over the top nature that comes with a Golan-Globus production, then you're in for quite the time with 'The Wicked Lady.' If you're a true devotee of heady high art cinema - frankly I'm amazed you've read this far! Put this one in your player and have fun; that's what its there for.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Pressed on a BD25 disc, 'The Wicked Lady' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber and Scorpion Releasing. The disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case and opens directly to the main menu.
The last thirty years have actually been very kind to 'The Wicked Lady.' This 1.85:! 1080p presentation is quite beautiful. The print appears to be in fine shape over all, save for some occasional nicks and a couple of scratches that run vertically along the left side of the screen. Thankfully these scratches happen during darker scenes so they're hardly noticeable. Colors and flesh tones are a bit difficult to grade since by intention, this film appears quite drab with muted colors to maintain the Old English look. Several scenes that are allowed full natural sunlight look splendid. The real stunner of this transfer is fine detail. Thanks to a retained grain structure, detail is fantastic throughout. Long shots, medium shots and close ups all look stunning allowing viewers to fully appreciate the intricate costuming details - you can see this was not a cheap movie on that instance alone. Black levels and shadows are also equally strong allowing for this film to have a great sense of three dimensional pop to them. Considering the age and reputation of this film, I expected it to be in much worse shape. So few films of this vintage look this good it's amazing a movie like 'The Wicked Lady' has aged this well.
'The Wicked Lady' steels the show with this lively and lovely English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. For the most part things keep to the midranges allowing for the dialogue and canned sound effects to feel alive and present. Free of any hiss or pops in the track, the imaging is active and moves about the stereo channels in a nice believable way. Listen to the fabric movement in the dresses as the ladies move about the extravagant sets. Where the track gets into some trouble is when the music swells for emotional highs - things start to rattle a bit more than they should. You don't have to keep your thumb on the volume by any means, but when the music starts to pick up suddenly - look out! All in all this is a very strong track and helps keep this bonkers movie fun.
Original Trailer: (HD 1:28) It's a fun 80s trailer that attempts to sell this movie as the adventure film of the ages.
I don't think I have ever said "What the hell is this movie?" more times in my life than when I was watching 'The Wicked Lady.' As a Golan-Globus movie, I was expecting something goofy for sure, but this movie orbited my expectations in all the best ways. With its expensive production design and top tier cast playing this farce completely straight, there is a lot to enjoy. That isn't to say it's a great movie by any stretch - it's just one of those movies that is so thoroughly entertaining it's difficult to be insulted by its depictions of debauchery. If you're expecting 'Sense and Sensibility' melodrama - you've got the wrong movie. The picture quality is stunning and the audio is serviceable. Some more extra features, maybe a cast interview would have been great, but that's true for so many Cannon Pictures releases on Blu-ray. As it stands - this is pretty great and if you're looking for a goofy night of entertainment, give this one a try. If you love movies that are so bad they're good, 'The Wicked Lady' is absolutely worth a look!