Wicked Little Letters

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Wicked Little Letters
dir Thea Sharrock
scr Jonny Sweet
prd Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Olivia Colman, Ed Sinclair, Jo Wallett
with Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan, Timothy Spall, Joanna Scanlan, Lolly Adefope, Eileen Atkins, Gemma Jones, Malachi Kirby, Hugh Skinner, Alisha Weir, Jason Watkins
release UK 23.Feb.24,
US 29.Mar.24
23/UK StudioCanal 1h40

spall atkins jones

Is it streaming?

buckley and colman
While important issues spin around this period comedy, the script never quite gets a grip on them, overstating themes in a way that feels rather corny. But it's sharply performed by an ensemble led by Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley. And because it's based on real-life events, there's some intrigue that holds the interest. It's also full of funny moments, although it requires an openness to extremely salty language.
In 1920s Littlehampton, on England's south coast, the prim Edith (Colman) lives with her stoic parents (Spall and Jones) and is horrified to receive foul-mouthed poison-pen letters she assumes were written by outspoken Irish mum Rose (Buckley), who lives next door with her boyfriend (Kirby) and preteen daughter (Weir). The whole community believes Rose is the letter-writer, and as she is charged with criminal libel, the story becomes national news. But young police officer Gladys (Vasan) sees discrepancies in the case, and sets out to find the truth with Edith's friends (Scanlan, Adefope and Atkins).
As the central plot challenges ideas of British propriety, further thematic textures include the misogynistic behaviour of men, most blatantly Edith's father, whose vile sexist attitudes are something Edith can't stand up to. Rather than grapple with these ideas, the script plays everything for bright laughs, and much of the film is good-hearted fun. But the presence of these topics subverts the jaunty tone, even as deeper ideas remain sidelined. A reference to the suffragettes is brushed off with a harrumph.

Colman and Buckley lean into the comedy, building a strong contrast between the tightly wound Edith and the loose-lipped Rose. Both are so gifted that they layer in realistically contradictory aspects to create complex women who are grappling with a lot more than what the script chooses to highlight. Vasan is also strong as a police officer who is dismissed as a female but chooses not to let that stop her. The colourful people around them may be one-note caricatures, but the adept ensemble makes them engaging.

It's odd that the script never quite gets to grips with the gender politics, aside from peering back from today's perspective. And the same goes for the multi-racial cast, which might have also added knowing edge to the situation. At every point, the filmmakers go for silly gags rather than deeper comedy beats. This may keep us smiling and occasionally giggling out loud, but it undermines the situation's darker humour, and it also removes intrigue from the central mystery. Still, it's worth watching simply to see Colman and Buckley do their masterful thing.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 12.Feb.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall