Caroline (Glynis Barber) is to be wed to Sir Ralph Skelton (Denholm Elliott), the kindly and wealthy lord of this English manor and its environs, who does not like to see wrongdoers end up hanging from a rope, but society appears to demand it. She is in love with this older man, and he feels affection for her, but a spanner is thrown into the works of their union once Caroline invites her elder sister Barbara (Faye Dunaway) to visit and although nobody twigs to her double-dealing, the sister is a conniving sort who manages to win the heart of Sir Ralph - and his fortune.
On television around the time this was released, Kenny Everett was bestriding the midweek comedy landscape like a colossus, and one of his most popular characters was one Cupid Stunt. She was essentially Cuddly Ken dressed up as a busty Hollywood starlet, with an extravagantly leg-crossing catchphrase: "And it's all done in the best possible taste!" which would refer to her latest role in the ridiculous trash she had been telling her interviewer about, guaranteeing she would say "And all my clothes fall off!" in relation to what was required of her in her capacity as an actress. Well, Faye may have escaped the burden of a nude scene here, but everything else was precisely the sort of thing Cupid would have starred in.
Naturally, these unholy works do not spring fully formed from the ground, as The Wicked Lady was the culmination of a variety of threads ranging from those reliable schlockmeisters of the eighties Cannon Films, here making inroads into the Brtiish film market, to the sad winding down of a once promising directing career for Michael Winner, who it's hard for some to believe now but did actually make some entertaining movies back in the sixties. By this point, he was going all out for crass sensationalism, which he felt was the ideal tone to bring his remake of the cult Gainsborough romp of the nineteen-forties to the screen, an effort far more enjoyable than the lowest common denominator nonsense here.
Yet Winner had a real knack for talking impressive name stars into his movies, thus we had Dunaway as the title character, Alan Bates as the highwayman Captain Jackson she grows enamoured with, John Gielgud as a puritannical butler who tries to mend Barbara's ways and Barber scuppering a once-promising film career by appearing in things like this, but then again Dempsey and Makepeace on TV would have been far poorer if not for her presence. As all these thesps set about the plot as if this were a step up from guest starring with Richard O'Sullivan on Dick Turpin, Winner made his mark by including as much nudity as he could get away with - he had started out in the industry making a nudist camp quickie, and had brought all his experience in that field to bear in this.
These aims at raising the heartrate of the audience might have led you to hope this would be in some way camp, but such was the leaden touch that a load more intentional jokes would have been the more sensible road to take, sort of in the manner of the Blackadder episode which sent up the Margaret Lockwood original. Yet oddly there was a mood here that we were meant to be swept up in the melodrama of it all, something the end result stubbornly failed to do, so you were left twiddling your thumbs as, say, Dunaway did away with the butler, or turned highwaywoman to get back her brooch from rival Prunella Scales and discovering she likes the idea. Occasionally Winner would wake you up to offer the sight of Glynis's body double canoodling with Oliver Tobias (you even see her non-Glynis face in the same shot!) or the future Counsellor Troi from Star Trek Marina Sirtis engaged in a censor-troubling topless whip fight with Faye. It may have been ridiculous, but also went to prove that didn't always mean fun. Music by Tony Banks of Genesis, heavy on the hey-nonny-no for the frolicking peasants.