WICKED LITTLE LETTERS

★★★★

OLIVIA COLMAN TACKLES 1920s HATE MAIL

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Liz Chan
17th March 2024

The panache of true hater behaviour has been lost in the 21st century, 'Wicked Little Letters' declares. Before the age of boorish tweets quickly typed and riddled with speling mistekes, launching a tirade on pen and paper required a few more extra steps with care... like having legible penmanship and buying postage stamps.

This is the story of Edith Swann, a real woman who was a victim to such tirades with brilliant penmanship in 1920s Littlehampton. Played by a holier-than-thou Olivia Colman (Netflix's 'The Crown', 'The Favourite') in 'Wicked Little Letters', Edith is the receiver of poison pen letters with increasingly salacious vocabulary posted to her address. Who knew the word "foxy" (amongst others) could be used so creatively? Well not me, because I learnt a good 10 new ways to use it after watching this film.

The blame for the subsequent uproar is quickly thrust onto Edith's ex-friend and crass neighbour, Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley, 'Women Talking', 'The Lost Daughter'). Rose is an Irish mother who has newly migrated to the town with her daughter Nancy (Alisha Weir, 'Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical') and lover Bill (Malachi Kirby, 'Men Against Fire'), determined to make things work. With her unruly antics (an affinity for late-night drunken pub darts with human dartboards) and a larger-than-life personality (colourful language choices), her infamous reputation immediately makes her a juicy target following the accusations.

'WICKED LITTLE LETTERS' RED BAND TRAILER

Part courtroom comedy and part whodunnit drama, director Thea Sharrock ('Me Before You') brings on an ensemble of quirky characters that make up the vibrant town as the mystery unfolds. While Rose's innocence becomes increasingly clear, the poison pen letters only get more raucous and distributed to more members of the town. With outrageously hilarious nature eclipsing their pointed meanness – at least in comparison to the average 21st century social media post – the letters are penned with such fervent vigour and dignified grammar that they can only be traced back to one person.

'Wicked Little Letters' sticks the landing beautifully as a fun low-stakes romp, embracing the ridiculousness of the original story while taking enough creative freedom to make it work for a contemporary comedy audience. Jonny Sweet's script carries riotous dialogue and emotional stakes at the same time, which are only more punctuated by performances from the cast. The number of times Colman (or rather Academy Award-winning Colman) pulls a simultaneous trembling lip and pious grin while revelling in her newfound fame is nothing short of magnificent.

Part courtroom comedy and part whodunnit drama, director Thea Sharrock brings on an ensemble of quirky characters that make up the vibrant town as the mystery unfolds.

As the film tackles misogyny and historical events accurate to that time period, Thea Sharrock's selective choice for a less historically-accurate culturally diverse and female-led cast is greatly appreciated. The first person who begins to suspect Rose may have been set up by someone hating on her for being too cool (Irish) is Anjana Vasan's Gladys Moss. Desperate to prove her worth in front of her incompetent and dismissive white male colleagues, she works to get to the bottom of the case with the help of the town ladies – a wonderful ensemble of Joanna Scanlan, Lolly Adefope and Eileen Atkins. Seeing the women band together to clear Rose's name from public scrutiny feels like a timeless reflection beyond the constraints of a period setting. A key storyline is also Edith's relationship with her father Edward (Timothy Spall with an impressive moustache, 'The Pale Blue Eye', 'Mr Turner'), whom she finds liberation from by the end of the film – complete with a hysterical laughter one-take closing shot that amusingly held similar aura to that of 'Joker' (2019) or 'Pearl' (2022).

With an under-100 minute runtime, 'Wicked Little Letters' in its own silly way gave me a charming "movies are so back" revelatory moment. You know what? Sometimes all you need is to see Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley engage in a gleeful swearing match in 1900s garb.

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