The Wicked Lady

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Wicked Lady at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 27, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)
Genre: Period Adventure-Melodrama
Director: Michael Winner (The Big Sleep)
Starring: Faye Dunaway, Alan Bates, John Gielgud, Denholm Elliott, Prunella Scales
Rated: R

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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