Wicked Little Letters – Film Review

There is something wickedly British about the contents of the letters exposed in Wicked Little Letters which reveal a high degree of old fashioned British profanity. Set in Sussex and based on a true set of events that are so preposterous as to seem fictional, it is an engrossing dramedy from start to finish! Indeed they say that truth can be stranger than fiction!

Yet, Jessie Buckley is in her element as the boisterous Irish migrant outsider Rose Gooding  pitted against Olivia Coleman’s conservative homebody Edith Swan in this poison pen letter tale that exposes the inefficiencies of the criminal justice system and narrow parochial attitudes. The seaside town of Littlehampton in the 1920s has been rocked by the arrival of poison pen letters received by Edith and various members of the community and therefore suspicions fall upon everyone, especially Rose. Amongst this consternation, there is also the appointment of the first woman police officer, Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan).  Gladys’ arc provides that juxtaposition between entrenched traditional sexist views and the overhaul of archaic systems with a view towards modernisation.

Wicked Little Letters’ themes are delivered with impeccable comedic delivery by the cast as a mystery investigation unfolds to discover the culprit behind the letters. As such, the film exposes prejudices but also a chaotic police force that operates in a manner that is not dissimilar to the PC Plods in pantomime plays. The film’s subject matter also resembles the controversial French film Le Corbeau by Henri-Georges Clouzot with a similar premise of poison pen letters being received within a community. Here, there is a race against time for the police force to investigate with false accusations leading to potential miscarriages of justice.

Jessie  Buckley and Alisha Weir in Wicked Little Letters
Jessie  Buckley and Alisha Weir in Wicked Little Letters

The film showcases its stars with fantastic chemistry on display between Colman and Buckley. Wicked Little Letters works well as a cross between Misbehaviour and Wild Rose, both starring Buckley, but look at different transformative times in the UK with women trying to assert their rights. There are rumblings of the Suffragette movement within Wicked Little Letters but this is not at the forefront and issues of class divisions are similarly given the light touch treatment.

The female friendships and comedic scenarios are at the core of the film but it manages, simultaneously, to highlight those consequences that may be easily unravelled with a modern lens. This may be a difficult feat for other films, but Thea Sharrock and team strike the right balance.

Wicked Little Letters’ dissection of the role of evidence or lack thereof, but also the reluctance to take women in professional roles seriously, is an element that modern audiences may now take for granted. But this highlights how a witch hunt could quickly be levelled towards anyone who seemed out of place, particularly when evidence techniques were not as technologically advanced. Wicked Little Letters additionally seeks to question the reliability of such evidence in embracing its whodunit themes.

Wicked Little Letters, therefore, emphasises those simpler times when neighbours borrowed each others washing equipment and where a woman’s reputation could be subject to scrutiny and instantly perceived negatively. Despite the historical setting, these aspects remain relevant as such attitudes have not advanced significantly today in court witness testimonies despite being able to rely on technological samples more.

Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman in Wicked Little Letters
Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman in Wicked Little Letters

Sharrock has directed an audacious tale to make audiences laugh out loud. This is yet another role to showcase Buckley’s immense talent. It is a film that can draw comparison to See How They Run with that focus on the police procedural steps. However, Wicked Little Letters does border on the campy pantomime style, which may distract from the historically important events that it surrounds.

Overall, Wicked Little Letters is a riot, guaranteed to amuse viewers. Thus, it is ideal as that Friday night film that is perfectly placed as a light-hearted dramedy, but with lots of swearing. Sharrock has ensured that the film is bound to pique an audience’s curiosity about the true story behind the film. Despite all of its comedic elements, Wicked Little Letters also illustrates the romanticism of the forgotten art of letter writing and is, therefore, equally serving as an observation of historical art forms.

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