Review: Wicked Little Letters

Wicked Little Letters poster

A neat little story that delivered more than advertised.

Set in the 1920s, a English seaside town is emotionally rattled by obscene, profanity-riddled letters written and posted by an anonymous individual. A unorthodox investigation begins to track down the culprit.

It is like 1920s social media!

Directed by Thea Sharrock, director of television’s The Hollow Crown, and starring Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Timothy Spall, and others. Wicked Little Letters has a trailer that promises a lot of hilarious back-and-forth with naughty swear words and bad language. All from the lips of tight-lipped, devout, post-War Brits. By modern audience standards, it looks like a movie designed with prudish sensibilities. But it does have a little more going on than the trailer suggests.

The film is also based off a true story, which always adds to the allure!

The story follows Edith Swan, played by Academy Award winner Olivia Colman, a spinster living with her parents, under the thumb of her aging father and Christian teachings. One day, they started receiving brutally obscene letters, with their anonymous origin and foul language bringing distress and discomfort to the aged family. Her father believes that their next door neighbour, the foul-mouthed Irish mother Rose Gooding (played by Jessie Buckley) is the culprit, and when the 19th letter arrives, they move to arrest Rose Gooding.

The film is well performed by everyone involved. The humour isn’t limited to naughty language, though. A lot of the characters are delightful, including Joanna Scanlan’s Ann, and Lolly Adefope’s Kate. There’s good chemistry here between witty, bitter, and conniving individuals.

Still from Wicked Little Letters

The plot also trots along at a good pace. For an investigative story, it isn’t extremely taxing on the audience but not as obvious as it seems either.
There’s a lot of character development and serious issues as well though. We are in the middle of the suffragette movement, and the film prioritizes women and the difficult place women were in at this time. The film’s certificate rating even includes a warning for “controlling” behaviour.
The audience can immediately see how withdrawn Colman’s Edith is, how buried she is in religious doctrine. On the flipside, there is Buckley’s free-spirited and rabble-rousing Rose. A woman completely liberated by the social norms that chain Edith down. Both, however, ultimately mean well and aren’t so different from each other.

On top of this is Gladys Moss, a “woman police officer” played by Anjana Vasan, who is also looked down upon by her blustering, narrow-minded male superiors.

Can these women get to the bottom of the foul letters and rise above their social shackles? You’ll just have to watch to find out.

Wicked Little Letters was pleasantly surprising. It is welcoming with its quirky British-ness and comedy, but has the staying power of a period drama. There’s more dramatic heft between the characters and within the final act than you might expect.

4 out of 5 stars

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