THE WICKED LADY (1983)

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There is always a perception whenever the following words 'The Cannon Group Presents' appear on screen in a film that it is going to be something exploitative. The Wicked Lady, Michael Winner's 1983 remake of the classic Margaret Lockwood drama, is about as typical a Winner film as you can get and as expected, he does find a way to expose his ten pound of flesh whenever he gets the chance, as there are several moments where nudity and sex play a part in the proceedings. There's less buckle and not enough swash in this film, which earned Faye Dunaway a Razzie nomination for Worst Actress back in the day.

That said, considering the critical drubbing it got in 1983, the film is not all that bad. The cast is worth watching the film for with the likes of Dunaway, Alan Bates, Oliver Tobias, Glynis Barber (post Blake's 7 and pre-Dempsey And Makepeace), Prunella Scales and John Gielgud (who looks as bemused in what is going on in this as much as he was in Bob Guccione's Caligula (1981). Jack Cardiff's name also lends a bit of weight to the remake, given his prestige and legend as a cinematographer. However, the end result could have done with a little more subtlety and belief in the material which it is based on (the book Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall)

The film starts with Caroline (Barber), who is scheduled to be married to Lord Ralph Skelton (Elliott) and invites her sister Barbara (Dunaway) to be her maid of honour at the wedding. Before she's even had a chance to get measured up for her corset, Barbara has convinced Ralph to be her husband and starts imposing herself. Lady Kingsclere (Scales) beats her at cards, taking all the money Ralph has given Barbara, to which Barbara challenges her using a brooch as the prize. However, Kingsclere beats her again. Barbara decides to take up the mantle of a highwaywoman and decides to steal the brooch from Kingsclere, thus beginning a reign of terror amongst the coach riding upper classes……

The Wicked Lady in the hands of Sam Mendes or Tom Hooper would carry more resonance (and who is to say there isn't going to be a third version of this film down the line, as the time could be ripe for it given the adaptations of things like Pride And Prejudice and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy previously. But, all things considered, this is Michael Winner's Wicked Lady. The sex scenes feel a little too by the numbers, seemingly tacked on for commercial gain and don't really add anything to a potentially enjoyable adaptation. Like a lot of the Cannon output, which in recent years has undergone a reassessment (and their best film, Runaway Train (1985) is finally getting the acclaim and exposure it well and truly deserved all those years ago), the film is full of potential, but let down by poor creative choices and input. Worth a look if you want to trace Cannon's history and filmography

THE WICKED LADY (1983) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL WINNER / SCREENPLAY: LESLIE ARLISS, MICHAEL WINNER / STARRING: FAYE DUNNAWAY, ALAN BATES, JOHN GIELGUD, DENHOLM ELLIOT, PRUNELLA SCALES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW


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