Seeking out the

5000 greatest films

in a century of cinema

Wicked Little Letters

Directed by Thea Sharrock
Produced by Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Olivia Colman, Jo Wallett, and Ed Sinclair
Written by Jonny Sweet
With: Jessie Buckley, Olivia Colman, Timothy Spall, Gemma Jones, Anjana Vasan, Hugh Skinner, Malachi Kirby, Alisha Weir, Lolly Adefope, Joanna Scanlan, and Eileen Atkins
Cinematography: Ben Davis
Editing: Melanie Oliver
Runtime: 100 min
Release Date: 23 February 2024
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley, who played the same character during different stages of life in Maggie Gyllenhaal's wonderfully self-assured directorial début The Lost Daughter, get to play off each other as warring neighbors in this whimsical British comedy based loosely on an actual 1920s scandal that became national news. Set in Post-WWII England (even if most everything screams 2024), Wicked Little Letters tells the true story of an investigation by local authorities into an anonymous letter-writer who sent a series of crude and cruel missives to various residents of the English seaside town of Littlehampton.

Colman plays Edith Swan, a pious conservative Christian, the one of eleven siblings that stayed home to take care of her aging parents, who is the first victim of these poison pen letters. She immediately suspects the uncouth, foul-mouthed Irish immigrant who lives next door, Rose Gooding (Buckley). But Rose is so profanely outspoken that many of the local women question why she would bother to send unsigned letters. Edith's stern father (Timothy Spall) insists on pressing charges, and soon Rose is facing a trial that could result in a heavy sentence and separation from her young daughter. It's up to the newly appointed Woman Police Officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) to investigate the validity of the charges.

American movie-goers used to get several quirky small-town comedies from the British Isles every decade. From The Ghost Goes West (1935), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) and Hobson's Choice (1954) during the golden age; to Local Hero (1983), The Full Monty (1997), and Calendar Girls (2003) in the age of the arthouse; to the few that still make it into cinemas post-streaming, like Pride (2014) and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022). I enjoy these pictures, though the subpar ones do tend to pander a bit inauthentically to Yanks like me.

Wicked Little Letters falls into that category because the movie seems to go out of its way to be anachronistic, over-the-top, and artless in its desire to make sure nobody misses the parallels in this quaint old story to contemporary online trolling. Even with such a wonderful cast—in addition to those I've already mentioned, we get Gemma Jones, Eileen Atkins, Joanna Scanlan, and Tim Key—much of the characters' behaviors strain credulity to such an insulting degree it zaps the film's potential to make its points in a poetic rather than didactic way.

Twitter Capsule:

Loosely based on a true story, this quaint English comedy of ill-manners stars Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley as warring neighbors involved in a scandal concerning anonymous point-pen letters.