The Wicked Lady is a film that was released in 1945 and starred Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, and Patricia Roc, and was set in 1683 England. The story begins with a young couple – Caroline and Ralph – who are happily engaged and set to marry in a few days’ time. Caroline, warm and genuine, is completely in love with her fiancé, and he regards her kindly but isn’t sure he’s in love with her.
Everything gets turned upside down with the arrival of Caroline’s cousin, Barbara. This woman is a narcissistic, ambitious, self-serving person who reminded me a bit of Scarlett O’Hara but without any redeeming qualities. Ralph is completely besotted by her – and when Barbara finds out he’s a wealthy landowner, she proceeds to seduce him. Barbara, weeping crocodile tears, tells Caroline that she and Ralph have fallen in love. The selfless and noble Caroline tells them they can marry and she acts as the maid of honour – and Roc’s subtle expressions of pain throughout the film were remarkable. The sexual tension is also present – the run-up to the marriage bed scene I thought very tense.
If you think I’m giving away the plot, I’m not; the story gets more complicated once Barbara realises that married life to the gentle Ralph doesn’t suit her at all – she’s bored out of her mind. She’s useless as a housekeeper, so she enlists (the now long-suffering) Caroline to run the household in her stead. Barbara doesn’t even sleep with Ralph, preferring to have her own room in an unused portion of the mansion. Here, she finds a secret tunnel that connects her room to the nearby woods.
They say the Devil makes work for idle hands and Barbara is soon a highwaywoman…and she meets a notorious highwayman. Highway robberies, theft, murder, adultery, revenge, and betrayal are all aspects of this story – and I thought it was very good. Does the very wicked Barbara get her comeuppance? Do Caroline and Ralph have any hope of happiness?
I loved the little historical additions, such as the Thames freezing over – this did, in fact, happen during the Stuart era because of the Little Ice Age. More on that some other time, but it was lovely to see how they set a scene on the ice.
Honestly, this is one film I would love to see re-made because period dramas can be made so realistically now and show more than was appropriate back in the 1940s. That being said, I’ve read that there was a remake in 1983 starring Faye Dunaway and Alan Bates, but that generally received lower ratings than the 1945 version. In short, I enjoyed it – and so did my husband, who said, “Crikey, this could be remade by Tarantino – it’s so dark!” I would strongly disagree about Tarantino going anywhere near a film set in the 17th-century, but that’s just me.
SCL rating: 4