Barbara Worth (Margaret Lockwood) is a beautiful noblewoman, but she doesn’t exactly act the part. Mean-spirited and continuously sharpening her tongue, Barbara escalates to true crime when she decides to masquerade as a highwayman to scare a society rival.
On the road, she meets the intimidating Jackson (James Mason), a criminal both feared and admired by the local community. They soon begin to fall in love, but find their romance complicated by their crimes.
The Wicked Lady was written and directed by Leslie Arliss. It’s based on the novel The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall.
There’s a lot to love about this film. It quite effortlessly joins society drama with romance, crime, and adventure. Sort of a swashbuckling (minus the sea), historical, noir-comedy. It has all the cattiness of Joan Crawford’s character in The Women… if she was a truly maniacal woman with a newfound knack for jewel thievery and attempted murder!
James Mason stars as a notorious thief, with the fantastic Margaret Lockwood alongside him as a woman he meets on the highway. At their mid-heist meet-cute, she’s dressed as a man and making a name for herself the English countryside’s greatest new criminal threat — in other words, his newest competitor.
Although they’re both pretty awful people, I was endeared to them as a pair immediately. The film doesn’t offer much of an in-depth psychological character study of Barbara, but she sure as heck is fun to watch, in all of her melodramatic villainy. I would have readily watched an entire series of films tracking Barbara and Jackson’s takeover of the 18th-century crime world!
The Wicked Lady is a wild ride, made all the better by Mason and Lockwood’s performances, as well as its excellent script. I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes, which (as I type) have me wanting to watch this delightfully mad film again:
- “If I can’t live while I’m alive, I’ll go mad!”
- “Wear THAT? I wouldn’t be buried in it!”
- “I’ve never seen an execution! It’ll be a new sensation.”
- “May God bless all my friends! And may my enemies hang, as I am.”
- “You cold-blooded fiend!”
- “To our next merry meeting… in hell!”
It’s too late for me to recommend that you catch this one on FilmStruck, but it is available from The Criterion Collection (including for rent on Amazon and iTunes).