Friday, 1 July 2016

The Wicked Lady (1983)


"Not quite as historically accurate as CARRY ON DICK"

Where to start with Michael Winner’s remake of THE WICKED LADY for Cannon Films? For many the words ‘Winner’ and ‘Cannon’ in the same sentence will be (more than) enough. The 1945 version was panned by the critics on release, made a star of Margaret Lockwood, and was a huge financial success for Gainsborough Pictures. Over the years it has come to be regarded as a bit of a classic of a bodice-ripper, with Lockwood’s cleavage being deemed too racy for the American audience who had a more covered-up version shot for them. 
Michael Winner’s THE WICKED LADY is not a classic of anything.

"Don't worry, you won't be in this film for much longer"
That doesn’t mean you won’t have fun with it, though. Jack Cardiff’s photography is excellent, the locations are great and Winner has put together an interesting cast. Sadly, that cast isn’t given the best direction, the framing of shots doesn’t have the best direction, and all those naked young ladies running around have I presume had some kind of direction. But not the best.
We’re in a slightly bizarre version of seventeenth century England where normally single-firing muskets can shoot several times without needing reloading, rich men and women wear the most enormous hats, and naked girls come running right at the screen if Michael Winner’s name appears.

For goodness' sake, Michael...
Glynis Barber plays Caroline, except for the bits where she has a stand-in. You’ll be able to tell these because the shots are filmed from what Michael Winner thinks is far enough away (it isn’t) and because we keep cutting to the stand-in’s much bigger breasts and then back to poor old Glynis obviously with her bra still on.
Caroline is getting married to Ralph (Denholm Elliott). To celebrate this union she books an overdressed pantomime dame to come and overact in a melodramatic manner whilst wearing a variety of outrageous over the top outfits that can barely fit inside a carriage, presumably as after-wedding entertainment. Faye Dunaway arrives instead but nobody seems to notice. 

"I'm the Wicked Lady!" "Oh no you're not!" "Oh yes I…" etc
Soon wicked Faye has seduced Ralph with the old ‘I’ve fallen off my horse’ routine and is enjoying the life of a posh wife, which includes putting up with dotty old Joan Hickson (mouthing her own dialogue I suspect) and manservant John Gielgud (you can almost see the tears in his eyes when he’s not almost but not quite successfully looking for the odd cue card). 
When Prunella Scales wins Faye’s brooch in a card game, and Winner’s use of repetitive voice-over reminds us of facts we were only told a couple of minutes ago, Faye decides to dress up as a highwayman using yet another outfit she must have brought with her in a massive furniture lorry that has to be parked around the back of the building, and off she goes to get it back.

Michael Winner attempts 'interesting' shot. Joan Crawford looks on.
Thus her adventures in Michael Winner land get underway, including hooking up with highwayman Alan Bates, whipping a topless Marina Sirtis (all uncut in this version for those ‘sophisticates’ among you), slowly poisoning John Gielgud (Gielgud Still Lives! should ideally be shouted out regularly during viewings of this), and having a final scene of which Joan Crawford would have been proud and extremely envious. 

Once again Mr Winner effortlessly emphasises the most important component of this scene
Second Sight’s disc comes with no extras, but to be honest with all that going on you really don’t need any. THE WICKED LADY is quite possibly the most fun you can have with a Michael Winner film. It’s much funnier than his comedies and no doubt the inspiration for numerous late-night drinking games. If not then it should be. Like I said, the cast is great but they aren’t reigned in at all, with Dunaway in particular so over the top (emulating her hairstyles in many scenes, in fact) that it’s impossible to take anything she says or does seriously. Definitely one to watch over and over again. With the right sort of friends, of course, or they won’t be your friends anymore. 

Michael Winner's version of THE WICKED LADY is out on DVD from Second Sight on Monday 4th July 2016

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