September 20, 2009
The Wicked Lady (1945) stars Margaret Lockwood as Barbara Worth -- an adventurous young woman in 17th Century England. The movie opens with Barbara's cousin, Caroline (Patricia Roc) getting engaged to Sir Ralph Skelton (Griffith Jones). Caroline invites Barbara to be her Maid of Honor. Though the two haven't seen each other in nearly five years, Caroline remembers how fun and exciting her cousin was, and can't wait to see her.
When Barbara arrives, Sir Ralph is immediately taken by her striking beauty and... well, now would be a good time to relay a little information I got from Robert Osborne. Though this film was a gigantic success in England, there was a little delay in bringing it across the pond. The censors weren't too keen on the risque storyline but they were even less keen on Margaret Lockwood's wardrobe. I trust you'll know what I'm talking about when I say her cup surely runneth over. They actually had to re-shoot scenes with a more modest wardrobe for American audiences. The version I saw, though, is definitely the British one.
So anyway, Sir Ralph was immediately taken by her.. eh-hem.. striking beauty. Naturally, this does not bode well for Caroline. Especially after Sir Ralph had just told her earlier that while he didn't actually love her, per se, he was definitely fond of her. Nice thing to tell your fiance, right?
So a little switcheroo is in order. Barbara marries Sir Ralph, and Caroline is her Maid of Honor. But at the wedding, Barbara meets a dashing young architect (Michael Rennie) who gives her a long, passionate kiss before sending her off to meet her new husband in their bridal chambers. Wow.
Soon Barbara becomes bored with the whole setup. She's cooped up in a country house, with a stuffy, dull husband. She's forced to meet with relatives she can't stand, and then to top it all off, she loses a precious, sentimental piece of jewelry to one of those relatives in a card game. But our heroine is not going to take this lying down. She disguises herself as the notorious Captain Jackson, a highwayman (17th Century masked man who rides on the highway at night, assaulting women in their carriages and stealing their jewelry) to steal back her prized brooch. The thrill of the robbery is so great that Barbara soon turns into a highwaylady herself.
I'm beginning to wonder if I have some kind of problem, because once again I was rooting for the person who's supposed to be evil. Throughout the course of this film, Barbara is a robber, murderer and adulteress. But I wanted her to get away with it all! When she plans on killing people, I hoped they'd die. And for crying out loud, her goody-two-shoes cousin Caroline just drove me up the wall. Does anyone else feel like this when they watch movies? I get so darned upset when the production code (or whatever they had in Britain) swoops in and makes the bad guys pay, the good guys happy and the moralists in the audience squeal with joy.
As you can probably gather from my description, Barbara is REALLY wicked. The title suits, and Margaret Lockwood was superb in the role. James Mason and Michael Rennie co-star in the film (two heavyweights in their own right) but you barely notice them because Margaret Lockwood's acting is just so powerful. That, and the fact that they didn't get too much screen time anyway-- the male lead of Sir Ralph was played by Griffith Jones, who was perfect for this part because he was so unnoticeable, small and boring compared to Margaret Lockwood.
Lucky that I caught this on TCM this month because it seems to only be available on DVD in Region2. Lucky for you-- I decided to put it on YouTube :) You can view it here.
ps. It's bizarre how James Mason is made out to be the star of the picture in the poster I found, since he's barely in it! I just thought that was peculiar.