A bodice-ripping British classic

Margaret Lockwood and James Mason star in 'The Wicked Lady'.

Margaret Lockwood and James Mason star in 'The Wicked Lady'.

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Love, passion, betrayal and larceny abound in ‘The Wicked Lady’, a tale of aristocratic shenanigans in Restoration England.

Although tame by today’s standards, the film was considered to be fairly racy on its release in 1945 and the British public, always appreciative of a good bodice-ripper, turned out in droves to see it.

Invited to the country for the marriage of her friend Caroline (Patricia Roc) to the wealthy Sir Ralph Skelton (Griffith Jones), Barbara Worth (Lockwood) sees a prime opportunity for her own advancement and sets about seducing Sir Ralph to the point where he is totally entranced by her.

Concerned only for his happiness, Caroline stands aside to allow him to marry Barbara who, adding insult to injury, persuades her to stand in as maid of honour.

Quickly bored with life in the country, Barbara recklessly loses her mother’s brooch in a card game with her sister-in-law Lady Kingsclere. To get it back, she dresses as a highwayman and holds up the Kingscleres’ coach. Intoxicated by the experience, she takes to the road regularly to relieve her boredom, where she meets notorious highwayman Captain Jerry Jackson (James Mason).

The two form a partnership and become lovers which is discovered by her husband’s steward Hogarth (Felix Aylmer), whom the ruthless Barbara murders after duping him into believing he can reform her. She then betrays Jackson to the authorities after finding him with another woman and attends his execution, but Barbara ends up caught in her own web of deceit and her past refuses to die quietly.

It’s a terrific story, inspired by the supposed real-life exploits of 17th century aristo Lady Katherine Ferrers, and still one of the best melodramas produced by Gainsborough Pictures. There’s much to enjoy, not least seeing a prime schemer and mercenary get her eventual comeuppance.