“Wicked Little Letters”: Wickedly Funny

When I heard about “Wicked Little Letters”, I knew it sounded like the kind of film I like, witty and fun. I also especially liked the diverse cast and know that Olivia Colman is very talented. What I didn’t expect was just how wickedly funny and insightful the movie would be with an amazing ensemble cast including Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan, Timothy Spall, and Joanna Scanlan.

“Wicked Little Letters” is a black comedy mystery film directed by Thea Sharrock and written by Jonny Sweet. Based on a true scandal, the film follows the investigation into the anonymous author of numerous crude insulting letters sent to the residents of a seaside town Littlehampton. In the film, Edith Swan (Olivia Colman), a devout Christian spinster lives at home with her gentle mother Victoria (Gemma Jones) and her controlling father Edward (Timothy Spall). Edith is distraught to have received 19 crude letters and her father calls the constables accusing their next door neighbor Irish born Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley) due to her foul mouthed language and attitude. While Edith and Rose had been friends, Edith is convinced of Rose’s guilt due to her behavior. Rose states she didn’t do it and eventually seeks help from a female police officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan). Gladys is discouraged by her supervisor from investigating but she questions Edith and meets her friends, Kate (Lolly Adefope), Mabel (Eilenn Atkins) and Ann (Joanna Scanlan). Both Mabel and Ann like Rose and believe Rose is innocent too. Gladys eventually searches with the help of Ann to find the truth behind the anonymous letters. 


The writing is smart in this film. Not only does each character have their moment to shine but the film examines the social and gender roles of 1920 with a deft and witty hand. Not only does it show the bias against women who don’t fit the traditional role of wife and mother but it also demonstrates the abhorrent conditions in prison for women where Rose is taken until she is bailed out by friends. Rose has a daughter and the film also looks at how she is treated as a single parent without resources. The writing is especially good when it focuses on Gladys and her role as a female officer, how she is treated by the men and how much she has to tolerate to continue to do her job. While the commentary isn’t subtle, it is well written and there are moments that actually add to the humor in the film without slowing down the mystery.

The comedy elements are hilarious. Olivia Colman and Anjana Vasan are both excellent at demonstrating subtle expressions that provide a lot of humor in a situation. There are quite a few lines that make the audience laugh out loud, like when Ann says, “My hygiene is alarming even to me.” I love when Gladys goes around a corner and screams silently over the treatment of the male police officers. But what makes the humor so profoundly good is the layers to it. The comedy is both visual and part of the dialogue. There is biting humor and gentle warm moments of joy. And the narrative has the best use of curse words as comedy that I’ve seen yet. 

None of this would work without the performances of some outstanding actors. Olivia Colman is outstanding as Edith, portraying her character with subtle expressions, overt faith and an undertone of oppression. Her expressions lend much of the comedic moments in the film. Her dynamic with Jessie Buckley adds to the poignancy of the situation and the humor. Jessie Buckley is wild and without regret as Rose. Within her wildness, she infuses her performance with vivid love for her daughter, iron will, and intelligence. Her interactions with Anjana Vasan playing Gladys are hilarious. Anjana Vasan steals most of the show along with Joanna Scanlan. Anjana Vasan does more with a look than any bit of commentary and she plays her character to perfection. Joanna Scanlon has some of the funniest bits in the film and steals every scene she’s in. But the entire ensemble including Gemma Jones, Timothy Spall, Lolly Adefope as Kate, Hugh Skinner as Constable Papperwick, Paul Chahidi as Chief Constable Spedding, Alisha Weir as Nancy, Rose’s daughter, and Malachi Kirby as Rose’s partner Bill, are all incredible and deserve raves. 

There was nothing about this film that stood out as needing improvement. While the comedy elements do eventually make it clear who the culprit is, the mystery is in how Gladys proves the truth and clears Rose of wrongdoing. The hijinks around that and the court drama are exhilarating and keep the audience on the edge of their seat, rooting for Rose. If you like mysteries and comedy, this is the film for you. “Wicked Little Letters” is wickedly funny, super smart and solidly charming.

Rating: 5 out of 5 letters

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