23 August 2008 | JohnHowardReid
Wickedly Lavish, But Picturegoers Loved It!
Not popular with the critics,and I agree the critical chorus had a certain amount of truth behind it. True, the plot is full-blown melodrama and the characters are pasteboard figures. But what does it matter? Is not extravagant plotting with all its coincidences, unlikely twists and larger than life surprises the stuff that escapist entertainment is made of? Are not players of the calibre of Mason, Lockwood, Rennie, Jones, Aylmer, Roc and Stamp Taylor sufficiently personable and charismatic to breathe life into one-dimensionally written figures? Certainly, I think so (even if Mason himself did not, although undoubtedly one of the causes of his dissatisfaction was the role's brevity).
Leslie Arliss has written and directed with verve, pace and style, his script helped by a great deal of witty additional dialogue and catty repartee, his direction aided by Jack Cox's typically moody, gray-toned photography, John Bryan's magnificent sets, Elizabeth Haffenden's eye-catching Restoration costumes. (Perhaps some of the film's enormous success at the box office can be traced to its low-cut, period gowns. It would be hard to deny that Misses Lockwood and Roc fill their costumes most attractively).
The Wicked Lady has an undeniable sweep and a vigorous dash that carries the audience right along. It may be too excitingly plotted for some, but it always looks so terribly authentic, it is hard not to be drawn into the machinations of villainess Lockwood or sympathize with the careless, carefree vigor of James Mason's full-blooded Captain Jackson. A welcome cast of deservedly popular support artists help round out the movie's terrific production values. Aside from some obvious process screen effects, no expense has been spared. In fact, this Wicked Lady is lavish to a fault.