The Wicked Lady

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The Wicked Lady
Promotional poster
Directed byLeslie Arliss
Produced byR.J. Minney
Written byLeslie Arliss
Based onnovel The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall
StarringMargaret Lockwood
James Mason
Patricia Roc
Griffith Jones
Michael Rennie
Music byHans May
CinematographyJack E. Cox
Edited byTerence Fisher
Distributed byEagle-Lion Distributors Limited (U.K.)
Universal (U.S.)
Release date
15 November 1945
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box officeover $1 million (US rentals)[2][3]
£375,000 (UK)[4] or $2,250,000 (UK)[5]

The Wicked Lady is a 1945 film directed by Leslie Arliss and starring Margaret Lockwood in the title role as a nobleman's wife who secretly becomes a highwayman for the excitement. The film had one of the top audiences ever for a film of its period, 18.4 million.[6] It was one of the Gainsborough melodramas, a sequence of very popular films made during the 1940s.

The story was based on the novel The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall, which in turn, was based upon the (disputed) events surrounding the life of Lady Katherine Ferrers, the wife of the major landowner in Markyate on the main London–Birmingham road.

The film was loosely remade by Michael Winner as The Wicked Lady in 1983.


Caroline (Patricia Roc) invites her beautiful, green-eyed friend Barbara (Margaret Lockwood) to her upcoming wedding to wealthy landowner and local magistrate Sir Ralph Skelton (Griffith Jones). A scheming Barbara soon has Sir Ralph totally entranced. Caroline, wishing only his happiness, stands aside, and even allows Barbara to persuade her to be the maid of honour so as to lessen the scandal of the abrupt change of brides. At the wedding reception, Barbara meets a handsome stranger, Kit Locksby (Michael Rennie). It is love at first sight for both, but too late.

Married life on a rural estate does not provide the new Lady Skelton with the excitement she expected and craves. A visit by her detested sister-in-law, Lady Henrietta Kingsclere (Enid Stamp-Taylor), and her husband (Francis Lister) does not lessen her boredom. Henrietta wins Barbara's jewels, including her most-prized possession, her late mother's ruby brooch, in a game of Ombre. A chance remark about the notorious highwayman Captain Jerry Jackson gives Barbara an idea. Masquerading as Jackson, Barbara holds up Henrietta's coach and takes her brooch (as well as the rest of Henrietta's jewellery).

Intoxicated by the experience, she keeps on waylaying coaches, until one night, she and the real Captain Jackson (James Mason) target the same one. After they relieve the passengers of their valuables and ride away, Jackson is amused to find his competitor is a beautiful woman. They become lovers and partners in crime.

Barbara learns of a valuable gold shipment from a former tenant farmer of Skelton's, Ned Cotterill (Emrys Jones), who is employed as one of the guards. Jackson is against the idea of stealing the gold, as the coach will have double the usual protection, but Barbara talks him into it. However, the robbery does not go smoothly. When Cotterill pursues them, Barbara aims for his horse, but ends up killing Cotterill. However, her conscience is not disturbed for long.

Hogarth (Felix Aylmer), an aged family servant, finds out about Barbara's double life. However, his religious fervour to save her and her convincing lies about repenting keep him from revealing what he knows. Barbara tries to silence him with poison and, when that is not quick enough, smothers him.

She then goes to visit Jackson after the prolonged absence caused by Hogarth, but finds him in bed with another woman. Infuriated, she anonymously betrays him to her husband. Jackson is captured and sentenced to be hanged. In London, Barbara goes to view the execution with Caroline, terrified that he will name her as his accomplice. However, he only mentions her indirectly before his hanging. When a riot breaks out afterward, the two ladies are rescued by none other than Kit, who turns out to be engaged to Caroline.

The riot allows accomplices of Jackson to cut him down, and he survives the hanging. He breaks into Barbara's bedroom at the Skelton estate and rapes her. Fearful of Jackson, Barbara begs Kit to take her out of England to start a new life. He is sorely tempted, but determined to honour his obligation to Caroline, and Barbara decides to free herself of Ralph. She awaits her husband's coach with a loaded pistol. Jackson shows up to claim partnership in the caper, but when he learns what Barbara intends, it is too much even for him. He rides off to warn Skelton, but Barbara shoots and kills him. When the coach with Caroline, Ralph and Kit arrives, she hijacks it and attempts to shoot her husband; Kit shoots her first and she escapes on horseback.

Mortally wounded, she flees back to her home, where Caroline finds her and ascertains the truth. Caroline sends Kit in alone to see the dying woman. At first, Barbara lies about how she was shot; however she cannot continue the deceit with her one true love. She confesses all and pleads with Kit to stay with her until the end, but he is too repulsed by the magnitude of her crimes. He leaves her to die alone. After her death, Caroline and Ralph reunite, determined to put the past behind them and live happily together.



The original novel was published in 1944.[7] Mason, Lockwood and Arliss' involvement was announced in November 1944.[8]


Filming started March 1945.[9]

The film was made at Gainsborough Studios in London with location shooting at Blickling Hall in Norfolk.[10]

British reception[edit]

The Wicked Lady was the most popular film at the British box office in 1946.[11][12]

US release[edit]

Due to problems with American censors, extensive re-shooting was required before the film was released in the United States (according to Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies).

The problems were that the women's dress bodices (appropriate for the era portrayed) were very low-cut and showed too much cleavage for the USA motion picture production code. It was a problem Jane Russell had in The Outlaw (1943). TCM sometimes airs the original, uncensored version on its USA basic cable network.

Margaret Lockwood said "We had to do nine days of retakes to satisfy the censor on that film and it all seemed very foolish."[13]

Mason said "I don't like it now," referring to the film after the changes.[14]

Proposed sequel[edit]

Maurice Ostrer reportedly wanted to make a sequel but this was vetoed by J. Arthur Rank who had taken over ownership of Gainsborough studios.[15]

In 1950 it was announced Arliss had written a sequel, The Wicked Lady's Daughter[16] but it was never made.


  1. ^ "Star dotes on chasing sheep". The Daily Telegraph. VI, (30). New South Wales, Australia. 10 June 1945. p. 38. Retrieved 6 October 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  2. ^ Variety. 1946 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ "Ranks $4,000,000 Likely This Year". 13 October 1947. p. 20.
  4. ^ "US Life or Death to Brit Pix", Variety 25 Dec 1946 p 9
  5. ^ PRODUCER QUITS RANK IN SPLIT OVER POLICY New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 24 Jan 1947: 18.
  6. ^ Channel 4, top 100 film audiences
  7. ^ "An exciting story of a gentlewoman who turned highwayman "Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton"". Western Mail. 61, (3, 218). Western Australia. 2 May 1946. p. 33. Retrieved 6 October 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ QUIET FILM DAYS IN LONDON By C.A. LEJEUNELONDON, Nov. 1 (By Mail).. New York Times 19 Nov 1944: X3.
  9. ^ "Seven big British films start in one week". The Daily Telegraph. VI, (17). New South Wales, Australia. 11 March 1945. p. 27. Retrieved 6 October 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ Peden, Murray (1979). A Thousand Shall Fall.
  11. ^ "JAMES MASON TOP OF BRITISH BOX OFFICE". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 20 December 1946. p. 4. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  12. ^ Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 2003 p209
  13. ^ British Film Star Irked by Censors: 'Silly,' Says Margaret Lockwood in Trans-Atlantic Phone Chat Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 9 Mar 1947: B1.
  14. ^ BRITISH FILM IDOL CASTS ORAL BRICKS: James Mason Says Rank Is Leading the English Movie Industry Into Trouble Outspoken Critic By THOMAS M. PRYOR. New York Times 15 Dec 1946: X6.
  15. ^ Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 By Robert Murphy p 46
  16. ^ "Kids Like The Kissing". The Sunday Herald (Sydney) (64). New South Wales, Australia. 16 April 1950. p. 5 (Features). Retrieved 26 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.

External links[edit]