Wicked Little Letters – Film Review

Directed by Thea Sharrock and starring Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley as Edith and Rose, with support from Timothy Spall and Anjana Vasan, Wicked Little Letters adapts the stranger than fiction story of the Littlehampton Letters into a riotously funny feature film.

It’s a truer story than you might think. In the 1920s, the town of Littlehampton was rocked by a scandal – local resident Edith Swan began receiving libellous letters filled with bizarre profanities, and before long the letters made their way into the homes of others within the Littlehampton community. The poison pen letters, as they became known, allegedly pointed to Edith’s neighbour and former friend, Rose Gooding. With her reputation ruined, Rose’s vindication rested on the shoulders of a few Littlehampton women, including the county’s first female police officer Gladys Moss.

One-time friends, a misunderstanding led Edith and Rose to look upon each other in disdain. Edith, a pious woman living with her elderly parents (played by Spall and Gemma Jones), is the picture of grace and Christianity. Unwilling to be affected by the vicious letters she received, it’s at her father’s insistence that she files a report with the police and the blame is immediately placed on Rose, a loud and foul-mouthed woman who immigrated from Ireland following the war. The country rallies against Rose and Edith revels in her newfound fame, leading some in the community to wonder if either of the women are quite what they seem.

On the surface, Edith and Rose could not be more different from each other. Rose, unmarried and co-parenting her spunky daughter Nancy with her partner Bill makes no effort to play down her reputation. Instead, choosing to spend her afternoons playing drinking games with the local bar flies. While Edith dresses and behaves modestly, cowering in her father’s intimidating presence, spending her afternoons with other Christian ladies playing whist. Rose’s presence in Edith’s life helps her to see beyond her station, while Edith provides Rose with some much-needed female kinship.

Colman and Buckley are absolutely electric as Edith and Rose, to absolutely no one’s surprise. Colman has become a household name since winning her Academy Award for The Favourite and Buckley has been on radars since getting nominated for her work on The Lost Daughter, which also starred Colman. Having worked together before, no doubt gave the pair an advantage on set, as they gel together so wonderfully. Whether they’re walking arm in arm or throwing verbal barbs, every minute that they share the frame is delightful.

Colman’s ability to switch between emotionally repressed to fiercely emboldened is seamless, and every moment in between when you can sense that Edith is creating a narrative of helplessness is delicious. Similarly, Buckley skilfully takes the pieces of Rose’s façade away, giving audiences a glimpse at her fragility before putting them back up again with a coy grin. Both characters are sympathetic, relatable, and so incredibly funny that whatever shortfalls the story might have are barely noticeable.

Of the supporting cast, the standout is Anjana Vasan, without question. Her role as PC Gladys Moss, the county’s first ever policewoman, is crucial to the story and so easily could have been overshadowed by the powerhouse performances of Colman and Buckley, but Vasan very securely holds her own.

Vasan, of Tamil Hindu descent, is obviously not an accurate casting choice; although her race is never brought into question, it adds a little extra salt into the wound when Gladys is constantly overlooked and underestimated by her peers and superiors. For that reason, it feels right to go against the grain of the era. Vasan has a quietly funny air about her that balances nicely with Buckley’s brash acting. As she schemes with the local women to uncover the truth of the letters, there’s a cheeky glint in her eye that just elicits a giggle from somewhere deep within. I would not be surprised to see her appearing in more comedies in the future.

As far as true story adaptations go, Wicked Little Letters firmly ranks as one of the best ones. By taking just the right amount of creative liberties and leaning into the ridiculousness of the story, screenwriter Jonny Sweet has helped Sharrock create one of the year’s most enjoyable films about women running amok in a long time.

Wicked Little Letters is in cinemas now.

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