In 1945, writer Magdalen King-Hall had written her 7th novel, Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton. It became a huge best-seller with book readers in Great Britian. Gainsborough Studios came calling and they turned the book into the film, The Wicked Lady, which in turn, was the biggest box office hit of 1946 in Great Britain. I happened to view the film a couple years ago when it was airing on Turner Classic Movies and I am so very glad that I tuned in to see it! The film has romance, action, passion, good vs. evil, and Captain Nemo, err, James Mason in it when he was declared the biggest movie star in Great Britain. Here’s a trailer that was used to advertise the film via Youtube.
The Wicked Lady stars Margaret Lockwood as Barbara, who is the wicked lady of the title. We first meet Barbara as she arrives at Sir Ralph Skelton’s(solemnly played by Griffiths Jones) estate. Barbara is the guest of her childhood best friend, Caroline ( sweetly played by Patricia Roc). Caroline and Sir Ralph have fallen in love and are planning to be married, but Barbara is jealous of Caroline and decides to sneak behind her back, to seduce and steal her fiance! Poor solemn Sir Ralph, he doesn’t know what’s hit him! We soon see a wedding ceremony, except it’s Barbara wearing the wedding gown that Caroline was planning to wear! Caroline is so sweet and good, and when she realizes Ralph loves Barbara, she willingly gives him up without a fight, and even agrees to be the Maid of Honor! I would not have been so charitable!
During the wedding reception a handsome guest, Kit Locksby arrives(Michael Rennie) and as soon as he sees the bride, he falls in love with her! Barbara, now Lady Barbara also locks eyes with the handsome Kit and we know she now has fallen out of love with her new husband and wants to be with Kit!
Since Kit is an honorable chap, he bows out of Lady Barbara’s life. Meanwhile, the lady is bored out of her skull at the Skelton estate. There’s 3 elderly, spinster aunts who also live in the house and they drive Lady Barbara nuts! Especially the two who are twins. (These three aunts are well acted by Martita Hunt, Beatrice Varley, and Amy Dalby-Varley and Dalby play the twins and they really do look alike so the casting office did a great work there!) One evening, Sir Ralph’s sister, Lady Henrietta and her husband, Lord Highclere(played by Enid Stamp-Taylor and Francis Lister) arrive for a short visit. The two ladies despise one another and their dialogue with each other is polite but mean-fun to see! The Highclere’s share the tales they have heard about the daring highwayman, Capt. Jerry Jackson. The rogue robs the coaches but not before giving passionate kisses to the ladies he robs! These tales catch Lady Barbara’s imagination. When Lady Barbara loses her mother’s brooch to Henrietta in a card game, Lady Barbara devises a plan to get the brooch back:she’ll disguise herself as a highwayman and stop Henrietta’s coach and get the brooch. Since her bedroom has a secret passage to the grounds of the estate, Lady Barbara is able to sneak away, dressed as a highwayman, robs the coach, and gets her late mother’s brooch.
Robbing that coach was such a thrilling activity that Lady Barbara decides to rob some more coaches! On one of her nightly robberies she inadvertantly meets Capt. Jerry Jackson because she has invaded his designated robbery area. He admiringly watches this new robber’s style, then invites this lady back to an inn for a shared supper. Of course, when Capt. Jackson takes off Lady Barbara’s mask, it’s inevitable that they’re going to do a lot more than share a supper!
Lady Barbara, busy with her new hobby of robbery and her new love affair with Capt. Jackson, has no idea that her husband, Sir Ralph has fallen out of love with her and that he now loves, once again, Caroline! Caroline(who had agreed to stay on at the estate to help run it because that duty was too boring for Lady Barbara), wise as well as sweet, moves back to London. While there, she meets Kit and soon the two of them are fast friends, both confiding they have broken hearts due to being in love with people they cannot be with.
A new conflict emerges to spoil all of Lady Barbara’s fun-the faithful servant Hogarth(wonderfully played by Felix Aylmer) is a Puritan, likes to quote scriptures, and he had become suspicious of Lady Barbara’s sleeping in so late each day so he takes it upon himself to stay up late one night and spy on her. He confronts Lady Barbara: he knows of her disguise, of her using the secret passageway, of her robbing coaches with Capt. Jerry Jackson and that she is his lover, and that she may have murdered a young man who is a tenant on the estate, as the young man was a new guard for a coach company that hauls gold and silver, and the young man had recently died in a coach robbery. Hogarth announces that he will be telling Sir Ralph all that he knows about Lady Barbara! She is horrified and decides to convince Hogarth that she is ready to repent, that Capt. Jackson was trying to blackmail her and that she was forced to go along with him, that he was the murderer of the young tenant. Lady Barbara is convincing and poor Hogarth is completely fooled. However, when Hogarth is later ill, and Lady Barbara is nursing him back to health, she decides to make sure he will never recover!!
I can’t give away anymore of the plot as I want you to find this film and discover how it will all end for yourself! Will Capt. Jackson ever be caught? Will Kit and Caroline marry? Will Sir Ralph get a divorce from Lady Barbara and then marry Caroline? Will Hogarth manage to tell Sir Ralph all he knows before he dies? Will Lady Barbara continue to live a wicked life or will she get tired of it and try to really repent?
From time to time TCM does air this British film, so check their online site to see if it will be airing anytime in 2015. It is available to view via Amazon‘s instant rent. A kind soul has put the entire film up on Youtube, but the quality of the print isn’t that great. Netflix may have it still on their roster. Criterion Collection also has the film and a fun clip when Lady Barbara is at the Inn with Capt. Jackson.
My post today has been for the Second Annual British Invaders Blogathon, hosted by Terry at A Shroud of Thoughts. Be sure to visit his blog site to read about other wonderful movies from across the pond that we Americans shouldn’t dismiss!