Wicked Little Letters movie poster

Wicked Little Letters

In theaters April 5, 2024


, ,

100 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , ,

Based upon a true story, Wicked Little Letters (2023) reminds us of a time when we had to put pen to paper if we wanted to horrify someone anonymously, instead of hopping on social media and letting a meme generator do the heavy lifting.

It’s post-World War 1, and life is slowly resettling around the small seaside town of Littlehampton, Sussex. Prim and proper spinster, Edith Swan (Olivia Coleman) at 65 Western Road is receiving the most rude and offensive letters. As a pastor’s daughter who was cowed into submission by her parents (Timothy Spall and Gemma Jones), she wouldn’t say boo to a ghost, so it’s unconscionable someone would bully poor, meek Edith. From name-calling to rumors of lewd acts with multiple gentlemen, Edna and her parents are appalled and scandalized, if only privately. At the urging of her parents, Edna takes the matter to the authorities, casting aspersions upon her neighbor, Rose (Jessie Buckley), a wild widow who drinks with men and lives in sin with her partner (Malachi Kirby) and young daughter (Alisha Weir). Rose is an Irish immigrant and recently settled after she lost her husband in the War. She is loud, messy, and unbothered, and her very existence seems to grate on the Swans.

Rose is arrested and jailed for the harassment and the whole town rallies to Edna’s cause, except one “woman constable,” Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan). She has a small legacy she’d like to uphold, and since fellow policemen can’t look past their own biases, she’ll have to show them how it’s done. When the entire town begins receiving these poison pen letters, Gladys assembles an unlikely alliance to get to the bottom, if not just for Rose’s sake but for her own as well.

If you’re expecting a hardscrabble Miss Marple Mystery, this decidedly isn’t it, but that doesn’t mean Wicked Little Letters is not a comfortable cozy mystery that coaxes giggles through language some of us will never not find funny. Olivia Coleman as sunny, if duplicitous, Edith always has a smile for her detractors and a kind word on their behalf, especially if the attention is on her. Jessie Buckley’s Rose is leagues away from her other widowed character, Harper in Men (2022), and Buckley squeezes out as much empathy and pathos from a woman who just wants to be left to live her life in peace. Anjana Vasan is the epitome of a long-suffering woman working with men who can only seem to fail upwards. Bringing everyperson wit and down to earth realism is Ann, played by Joann Scanlan. A local farmer who’s smarter than she lets on, Ann proves that not all heroes wear skirts, or even shower with any regularity.

Director Thea Sharrock leaves the heavy lifting to researchers who want to dive more into the original story, and writer Jonny Sweet’s script leaves the comedy a few shades darker than baby-poop brown. The mystery is easily cracked and the humor relies on ribald language, so there’s no need to make it more than 100 minutes of swears, libel, and elaborate penmanship.

Wicked Little Letters isn’t going to win any awards for cinematography nor will it be discussed in film studies for its depth of story, but not every movie needs to be dissected to be enjoyed. This is a lightweight film, based on an Early Century scandal that works because there’s not a lot to it. It’s as uncomplicated and unbothered as Rose, and you may learn a few new insults for your trouble.

Wicked Little Letters (2023) is rated R for scathing and imaginative uses of the ‘F’ word. For extra credit, try working a few into your next team meeting or family gathering.

Wicked Little Letters is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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