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The Wicked Lady [DVD] 
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Set during the reign of King Charles II, the aristocratic Lady Skelton (Margaret Lockwood) attempts to relieve the tedium of her day-to-day life by secretly acting as a highway robber. Lady Skelton finds herself caught up in a tangled web of romance, danger, and jealousy.
An extraordinarily racy movie for its time, The Wicked Lady was and still is as notable for its acres of heaving bosom as for its radical challenge to female stereotypes. This bodice-ripper about a bored aristocratic woman who turns highwayman just for kicks became a huge box-office success in post-war Britain, but Margaret Lockwood's eloquent bust proved a bit too expressive for Hollywood, so the film was expensively reshot for a sanitised US release. (From 1945 right up to Janet Jackson at the 2004 Superbowl, American audiences apparently have an enduring problem with those prominent parts of the female anatomy).
This is the definitive Gainsborough picture, a period romp crammed with cads, in which the camera gazes lasciviously down (it's all shot from a male eyelevel) at the low-cut ladies' dresses. But this time the female anti-heroine gives as good as she gets... and then some. Lockwood's Lady Barbara Skelton is quite gleefully amoral--more so even than Thackeray's arch-manipulator Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair--failing even to pay lip service to the moral standards of the 1940s, let alone those of the 17th century. It is she who wears the trousers (quite literally, in her highwayman guise) while the weak-chinned and weak-willed men around her crumble under the weight of their conventionality. Only James Mason's handsome dandy highwayman can keep up with her, but even he has to draw the line somewhere. Ultimately, social mores reassert their grip and Lady Barbara gets her comeuppance, but not before she's overturned every contemporary movie convention about femininity. "She was the wickedest woman ever seen on the screen", trumpets the original theatrical trailer on this otherwise bare-bones DVD release: it's still probably true even today. --Mark Walker
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Jerry Jackson (James Mason) and Lady Skelton, compliment each other perfectly, either when making love at the inn, or sitting astride their horses. The film demonstrates Margaret Lockwood`s acting ability, from Lady to robber. For example; when she visits the shop of Mrs. Munce (Muriel Aked) in order to obtain poison to be administered to the family steward, Hogarth (Felix Aylmer) who has discovered her secret life, she is dressed in the finest furs together with a wonderful ostrich hat and a muff, (it being winter). As she stands there, she is proud but not haughty; her flawless complexion - enhanced by a beauty-spot! - makes her the epitome of the British noblewoman. Her beauty is breathtaking; indeed, the viewer can recall that when Caroline (Patricia Roc) Introduced her to Sir Ralph she exclaimed, `Doesn`t she take your breath away!
In contrast, when she dons the guise of Barbara, the highway woman, adorned in tricorn hat, riding-cloak and tights, mounted upon her splendid horse, she looks magnificent! It is easy to understand why the three main men in her life: Sir Ralph, Jerry Jackson and Hogarth found her irresistible. True, there were no romantic feelings where Hogarth was concerned, but even he fell for her charm, when she begged him to`save her from sin` little realizing she had plotted his destruction.
From Lady Skelton`s point of view, she has virile a lover and discovered a new way of life, which makes up for her previously dull existence at home. As for Jerry Jackson, to have this beautiful noblewoman riding beside him, gives him not only a companion and a valued partner, but someone who will give him the sexual release he craves. Due to censorship rules then prevailing, this could only be hinted at, yet the viewer`s imagination is given free rein in the scene where the pair of them are seen lying together. For the first - and only - time in the film, we are by a lake. The moonlight is reflected on its surface, and Barbara looks radiantly beautiful. It is obvious that having carried out a successful robbery, they feel joy and exultation at having survived, plus the subconscious fear at the enormity the deed, for if caught they would face the gallows or transportation. What better way therefore, than to relieve their joy and fear than through sex. They have galloped to this place, and after being satisfied they are alone, dismounted from their horses and indulged in the joy of sexual union.
An earlier scene is both humorous and poignant. It happens when they are robbing a coach. Among the passengers is a very pretty girl who catches Jackson`s eye and gives him a provocative smile, which arouses Jackson, for the noblewoman`s blonde good looks are such a contrast to the dark-haired beauty of his beloved Barbara. Therefore, he sweeps this lovely creature into his arms and gives her a hearty kiss, much to Barbara`s fury; who in reply, gives the lass a hearty slap in the face! This greatly amuses Jackson! The scene also demonstrates how Lady Skelton has to re-adjust her attitude to this new life. In the course of the robbery, Jackson "pistols" (i.e. shoots) the leading coach-horse. This upsets Barbara very much, for when they ride away from the scene and stop for a rest,the beautiful girl asks sadly, `Why did you shoot that horse? I`d rather kill a man any day.` Her lover explains that no-one is more fonder of horses than he, but such a measure is necessary to avoid pursuit and capture. Then this lovely aristocrat realizes she has to re-think her outlook on life in order to be with the man she loves so dearly. This incident will prove to be of great importance later in the film when, after the pair of them having carried out a bullion robbery, the guard, Ned Cotterill, (Emrys Jones) mounts one of the coach-horses and gives chase.
Jackson, seeing Barbara is about to draw her pistol, shouts his instruction to the girl, `Aim low! Hit the horse!`The noblewoman nods to show she understands, steadies her horse, aims and fires,intending to shoot the lad`s horse from under him, but by mistake hits Ned, injuring him fatally. The lovely girl`s look of horror shows she realizes what she has done; this is made more evident when she approaches the wounded lad, crying, `Ned! Ned! I didn`t mean to hurt you! I aimed at the horse! At the horse!`. The grief in her face is obvious.
But now it is too late. When Jackson asks if the lad is dead, Barbara`s expression hardens. She knows that she has reached the cross-roads in her relationship with her lover. How ironic that this lovely girl who protested so much over the shooting of a horse, had on this occasion, meant to destroy a horse; instead, she has slain a fellow human - being. If she admits to weakness now, it will mean she must relinquish everything: her highway woman career, the thrill of robbery, plus the perfect sex she enjoys with Jackson. Therefore, her voice is hard as she answers, `Yes!` When Jackson protests, `I told you to shoot the horse!` Barbara replies cynically, `Well, we`ve got the gold haven`t we? ... it`s worth killing a man for, isn`t it?` Even if this does not reflect her true feelings.
Altogether, a wonderful piece of drama.
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