Despite its fairly rampant nudity—not to mention the notorious whipping scene that nearly got it an X rating—Michael Winner’s The Wicked Lady (1983) is an almost preposterously old-fashioned movie. This remake of the not-exactly-classic 1945 Leslie Arliss picture of the same name (Arliss gets cowriting credit with Winner on this version) is a creaky bit of melodrama. It’s played at a fever pitch by the principals, directed with unabashed theatricality by Winner and bathed in a frequently unintentionally (at least I would assume it’s unintentional) funny score by Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks. It’s all so delightfully over-the-top that it could only be disliked by persons approaching it as a serious drama. We are, after all, talking about a film that insists John Gielgud deliver the judgmental line, “These are dark times,” with a straight face.
Faye Dunaway plays the wicked lady of the title—and very wicked she is. Before the film is over she has seduced, robbed, betrayed and even murdered a significant portion of the cast for no very good reason other than she can. That she will expire pumping out a remarkable amount of blood seems a small price for such enjoyable perfidy—at least for a woman of her temperament. Winner and cinematographer Jack Cardiff—apparently armed with a nice set of Cokin filters (catch those tobacco-colored skies!)—capture it all with some stunning visuals that make you wish the material was a little less, well, corny.