The Wicked Lady (1983)

MICHAEL WINNER

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  B.5.  , 1983.  , .  Screenplay by , , additional dialogue by , , based on the book Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by Michael Winner.

Tacky remake of the Gainsborough classic, with  filling in for Margaret Lockwood as the enterprising woman who never runs out of ways to get both into and out of trouble.  Visiting her best friend () on the eve of her nuptials to a wealthy nobleman (), Dunaway dazzles the groom and takes the intended bride’s place in the wedding ceremony.  Barber takes comfort in the arms of despite the fact that he and Dunaway have an erotic connection, while our dubious heroine loses herself in the boredom of wealth and endless partying.  When she loses an important family jewel in a card game with , Dunaway thinks up a brilliant way to get it back: she dresses up as the famed highway robber (, offering no apologies for the fun he has here) who has been terrorizing stagecoaches on England’s unprotected roads.  Thrilled by the feeling of crime, Dunaway makes robbery a habit, eventually encountering the man she is imitating and the two of them, in taking a liking to each other, become a team of thieves.  The script doesn’t venture too far from the original’s narrative, but the direction is witless and uneven;  we find out at the end that Dunaway’s romance with Tobias is the core of the story despite its hardly being given any screen time or consideration.  Hampered by the devastation of Mommie Dearest three years earlier and likely limited in her choices of lead roles, Dunaway gives the proceedings all the intense star power that she ever provided a much better film, but the Golan-Globus mandate of including as many naked breasts as possible in their projects has never been more obnoxious.  It is likely that the producers are trying to capitalize on the success of the previous two decades’ bawdy Fielding or Dafoe adaptations (Tom Jones, Moll Flanders, Joseph Andrews, etc), but this one is pure soap opera escapism and not the witty social commentary provided by those much better writers.  Features an early performance by a fully exploited .

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