Film Review: Wicked Little Letters (2023)

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley lead the sprightly Wicked Little Letters

“This story is more true than you’d think”

Truth be told I let the Guardian panning Wicked Little Letters twice over guide me in terms of not going to see this rightaway, but when will I learn that critics don’t often know what they’re talking about. Written by Jonny Sweet from a true story, it has an uncomplicated charm to its ineffably Britflick period style and a quality cast having a wry bit of fun in delivering it – period swearing turns out to be quite fruitily funny.

Set in the Sussex town of Littlehampton in 1920, the equilibrium of the place is rocked by a poison-pen letter-writing campaign that sets everyone aflutter. Its main target is Edith Swan (Olivia Colman), a puritanical member of the community who lives with her elderly parents, who is convinced that her wayward Irish neighbour Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley) must be responsible for the filthy-mouthed missives.

The situation is of course a tad more complex than that and there’s fun in watching Anjani Vasan’s police officer Gladys Moss (the first female police officer in Sussex no less) probe away at the case, battling societal and institutional pressure at a moment when the impact of the end of WWI and the rise of the suffragette movement are causing their own waves. It is admittedly light touch but still an illuminating portrait of how this milieu might shape a mind.

Directed by Thea Sharrock, it is impeccably peopled with theatrical faves. Edith’s parents are Gemma Jones and Timothy Spall; Eileen Atkins, Joanna Scanlan and Lolly Adefope are among the townsfolk; Cyril Nri and Jason Watkins pop up in the courtroom; and a brilliant Hugh Skinner and Paul Chahidi are wittily unreconstructed policemen. And Colman and Buckley are both entertaining throughout as these former friends work through this major falling-out.

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