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Wicked Little Letters (A Movie Review)


Starring Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan, Joanna Scanlan, Gemma Jones, Malachi Kirby, Lolly Adefope, Eileen Atkins, Timothy Spall, Alisha Weir, Paul Chahidi, Hugh Skinner, Richard Goulding, Tim Key, Jason Watkins, Krishni Patel, Nikita Elle Jakobsen, Adam Treasure, Susie Fairfax, Jamie Chapman, Vinodini Patel, Amy Lee Ronaldson and Grant Crookes.

Screenplay by Jonny Sweet.

Directed by Thea Sharrock.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 100 minutes. Rated R.

There can be something wonderfully freeing about the use of profanity, particularly for someone who is caught in a repressive lifestyle. However, there is a cost in completely letting loose as well.

That is the moral behind this slight-but-amusing “based on a true story” British period piece.

Perhaps the most shocking part of Wicked Little Letters is that it was ever shocking. Of course, the world of small-town England about a hundred years ago is long gone. It’s interesting to look at what happened through a post-Twitter lens. Which is probably why this story of a serial poison pen letter writer in the quaint little village Littlehampton, England is portrayed somewhat comically, almost as a bit of a farce, even though at the time it was highly scandalous.

Olivia Colman plays Edith Swan, a highly repressed and highly religious spinster living in a small house with her domineering father and her proper, subdued mother. Edith’s life is a dull affair – she goes to church, spends time with some of the local women in things like sewing circles and playing card games, and spends much of her time passive-aggressively looking down on other people.

Suddenly, she starts receiving the foulest anonymous letters in the mail. Eventually, the letter writer spreads out and starts to send correspondence to other villagers, but Edith remains the main target of the profanity-strewn screeds.

Immediately suspected is her next-door neighbor, Rose (Jesse Buckley), an Irish immigrant, a widowed mother and a woman of somewhat loose morals for the time. (She works at a bar and is living with a Black man. And she is known to have a very salty vocabulary.)

Little things stood out to make Rose’s involvement in these letters a bit suspicious. The writer was obviously not really fluent in profanity – although filled with curse words and sexual innuendo, the insults really made no sense and the curses were usually used incorrectly, almost like someone was doing a Mad Libs book in which each blank space read “insert curse word here.”  

Also noticed, but mostly ignored, was the fact that the handwriting on the letters was obviously different than Rose’s. 

Still, the police are determined to blame Rose, even though the head constable acknowledges that from early on they did suspect someone else. However, it would keep up appearances to blame Rose, so she is jailed and put on trial.

Her case is taken on by Gladys Moss, the first woman police officer in the town. (In fact, every time she tells people she was a gendarme, she has to specify “woman” police officer.) She is also not taken seriously by the men in her station, who just expect her to write tickets and get them coffee.

Gladys and some of the women of the town feel that someone else is sending the letters, and they get together covertly to prove it.

Of course, the audience is clued in to the identity of the letter writer relatively early in the movie. (As a viewer, if you haven’t figured out who wrote the letters from the very beginning of the film, you’re not really trying.)

The rest of the film is an odd, but mostly funny, mixture of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Law & Order: Victorian Unit.

Wicked Little Letters won’t win any awards or change anyone’s life, but it’s an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2024 All rights reserved. Posted: April 4, 2024.

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