There are not enough words for me to be able to use to describe how much I love this Gainsborough Studios melodrama. There is something in The Wicked Lady for everyone to enjoy – adventure, romance, passion, danger, suspense – as well as an impressive recreation of Regency era home interiors and clothes.
Plus the film has Margaret Lockwood. Margaret was the best bad girl in British cinema history. I think Margaret really shone in the Gainsborough films of the 1940’s and this particular film features one of her finest screen performances. The way she played her roles in these films means that audiences love to hate her, and they also really don’t want her characters to leave the films.
Also, is it just me? or does anyone else look at Margaret and think that someone blended Vivien Leigh and Hedy Lamarr together to make one woman? It’s crazy how much Margaret looks like both of those women.
As well as being a very enjoyable film, I also find The Wicked Lady very interesting to watch. The character of Barbara and the choices she makes show her to be frustrated with her life, and also with the restrictions placed on her life because of her gender. At the time the film is set, women were seen as nothing more than objects of pleasure for their husbands and were expected to bear children and run the family home.
Independence and going against tradition was heavily frowned upon even where some men were concerned. Where women were concerned it was unthinkable that they would even consider living a life other than the one that was expected of them.
Barbara finds adventure and danger with a highwayman.Image source IMDb.
Barbara wants so much more than to simply be a wife. She wants to do her own thing and to have adventure and excitement. I think that the life she turns to during the film offers her escape from the restrictions she faces as a woman. She can be free when she rides the highway and takes charge of the dangerous robberies she sets up.
I personally find her choice to take control of her life to be quite admirable really, she is an individual in an era riddled with conformity and control. There is nothing worse than being told to live a certain way when that way is not the truth of who you are.
Barbara is such a strong and fun character. The way Margaret plays her has you rooting for her even when she is doing pretty awful things. It’s true that she doesn’t repent the bad things she does, but why should she? She is now living the life of a man in many respects, and you don’t see men of that time apologising for their actions. After all Jackson continues to be liked and admired by many of the lower class locals, despite being a thief and a real rogue (they even like him when he is accused of killing someone).
I also like how the film shows the double standard applied to women when it comes to sex outside of marriage. Men at the time were free to have affairs and nobody batted an eyelash, but the second a woman took a lover she became a tainted whore who must be punished. Double standards much?
The Wicked Lady is based on the novel by Magadalen King-Hall. The unmistakable attractions here are Margaret Lockwood, the beautiful Regency era gowns, and James Mason’s deadly and fascinating love interest.
On a peaceful country estate in England all is going well for the kind Caroline(Patricia Roc).She is due to marry handsome landowner Sir Ralph Skelton(Griffith Jones). The pair adore one another. Ralph is a rare decent chap in an era when the upper classes were indifferent to the suffering and living conditions of the lower classes. Ralph is liked and respected by his tenants and he is a very kind man.
All is idyllic until Caroline invites her cousin. Barbara Worth(Margaret Lockwood)accepts her cousins invitation, but when she arrives she falls in love with Ralph and seduces him. The heartbroken Caroline(although believing his change of heart to have been all his idea)lets him marry Barbara instead.
Soon though the restless Barbara becomes bored and completely fed up with her dull family and friends. She takes to the road one night disguised as a Highwayman and steals some jewels.
Going back to the same place again another night, she ends up meeting the notorious Highwayman, Captain Jackson(James Mason).Mistaking her for a man at first, Jackson warns her to stay away from his route. He soon discovers her secret and falls in love with her. Barbara is soon leading an exciting dual life which soon turns deadly after she kills a guard on a coach.
Soon Barbara finds her exploits are catching up to her when one of her husband’s servants, Hogarth (Felix Aylmer)tells her he knows of her double life. Barbara must think of a way to silence this man and keep her secret safe. Barbara also soon finds another man in her life, the dashing Kit (Michael Rennie)who longs to be her man. This woman sure doesn’t lead a dull life! 😁
Margaret and James have great chemistry throughout the film. I think they do a terrific job of convincing us that they are two people addicted to the thrills and danger of highway robbery. They also revel in the passion and excitement of their physical relationship. I really like how James makes quite an impression despite having a fairly small amount of screen time. He makes Jackson sexy, rough, bold, cruel. He also makes you believe that if you cross him he will not be a man to take betrayal easily.
Patrica Roc oozes decency as the gentle Caroline. She has an almost saintly quality about her. She serves as a stark contrast to the more earthy Barbara. I like how Patricia plays the role and keeps our sympathy for her. The characters of Barbara and Caroline remind me a bit of Scarlett and Melanie in Gone With The Wind.
Felix Aylmer is terrific as the religious servant, Hogarth. Aylmer was always a real scene stealer and his performance here is no exception.
Griffith Jones and Michael Rennie sadly don’t really get used to their full potential. Neither of their performances really linger in the memory as much as the other performances do. Both do convince as kind and decent men though.
I love how risqué the film is too. Some of the dialogue and scenes between Barbara and Jackson make it very clear that they are lovers and that she loves it when they are together.
This film also caused the censors over in America to have a fit because of the low-cut dresses of the women. Many scenes had to be reshot before the film could be shown there. How stupid is that?! These dresses were accurate for the time period for goodness sake. I’m not a fan of film censors at all, and I find that particular decision to easily be one of the most ludicrous and laughable they ever made.
If all of the above were not enough for you to enjoy, there are also a number of old guys sporting some truly awesome wigs and moustaches to make you giggle. 🙂
My favourite scenes are the following. Barbara and Jackson by the lake. Barbara and Kit on the bridge. Barbara locking her door and changing clothes looking totally excited to be able to sneak out to the highway. Caroline and Kit on the iced over Thames.
The film is hugely enjoyable and tackles some interesting things too. This one is much more than simply a costume film. I wish it were better known today.
If you haven’t seen this it comes highly recommended by me. What did you think of the film if you have seen it?