Plot: Sir Ralph Skelton (Denholm Elliott) is about to be wed to the much younger, quite beautiful Caroline (Glynis Barber), or at least he was to be wed, until his bride-to-be’s sister Barbara (Faye Dunaway) arrived. As soon as he sees Barbara, he is smitten and she picks up on his crush, later using it to manipulate him into a kiss and then, to change brides at the last minute. Caroline is crushed, but soldiers on and Barbara quickly tires of her aged husband and rural life. In fact, at her own wedding she was drawn to another man, though she was unable to act upon her whims. As she is used to the city life and getting what she wants, Barbara soon grows bored with her new lifestyle and needs an outlet or she is bound to go mad. She is soon inspired by tales a roguish highwayman, so she takes up arms and robs a carriage, one that is carrying one of her noble friends, no less. The thrill is immense and she is addicted to the rush, so she continues to hold up passersby, but she then runs into the real highwayman. Can she balance this double life or will her sinful ways catch up with her?
Entertainment Value: This is a period piece drama, Cannon Films style, so you know it will be a wild ride. All of the elements are in place for fans of costume dramas, with lush production values, often stunning visuals, and a remarkable cast, but The Wicked Lady refuses to follow the usual period piece rules. The end result is an over the top, even campy picture that might be a mediocre period piece, but it still a fun movie to watch and never fails to entertain. The open verbal warfare between nobles lacks subtlety, but provides some great lines, while the performances tend to embrace the over the top nature of the film’s approach. Faye Dunaway dials her drama up and her eyes alone chew up scenes left and right, while Denholm Elliott seems oddly out of place, but is still fun to watch. The supporting cast is memorable as well, with Alan Bates as the charming highwayman and a wealth of small, but enjoyable characters from gossipy old women to stuffy nobles to amorous bar wenches. This is not a subtle, slow burn tale of mischief among the nobles, so if you go in expecting a traditional costume drama, you’ll likely be let down. But if you want a bawdy, high drama, Cannon style period piece that aims to please, The Wicked Lady is made to order.
This movie has some nakedness, though at the time, it was criticized for showcasing so much naked flesh. But I think the whipping scene ensures the movie will never be forgotten, so there’s that. The infamous whip fight is a wild moment for sure, with Faye Dunaway and a half naked Marina Sirtis going head to head in epic fashion. The fight has a pro wrestling style top rope drive off a wagon wheel, ample blood, and a rough and tumble quality is that is so much fun to watch. It is a highlight, without question and a memorable cinematic set piece. The movie also throws out nude women every so often, as if on a schedule. So naked girls run the streets, the halls, and bang it out in side rooms, giving us some nice historical nakedness. The violence is never graphic and the blood looks silly, but there is some bloodshed at times. The whipping scene has one woman covered in lash marks, while gun shots produce some crimson as well. There’s also slaps, punches, tackles, strangling, poisoning, and more, so The Wicked Lady packs in all the dysfunction it can manage. The dialogue lacks the subtle, droll texture of most period pieces, offering instead blunt, but often hilarious barbs, including some biting banter between the noble women. A wealth of drama, judgment, gossip, and bitterness make sure the lines are memorable and the cast delivers them in over the top performances, so it’s fun stuff. In terms of craziness, we have the constant shifts of affection, the whipping scene, chickens flying from every corner of the screen, colorful characters, and moments of high camp, so it earns some solid points.
Overall Insanity: 5/10