Wicked Little Letters review

Dylan Hand

Graphics by: Hannah Daygo

3/5 stars

Olivia Coleman and Jessie Buckley’s talents shine throughout a scandalously sweary mystery comedy. When the residents of a stereotypical seaside town begin receiving heinously foul-mouthed letters, free-spirited Irish immigrant Rose is locked up for the crime. The resident town’s women band together to investigate, as they suspect something is awry.

Set just after World War 1, in the quiet and unassuming English town of Littlehampton. This shocking true story of a town and their poisonous pen pal breathes new life into this sleepy seaside setting. It is within this rejuvenated backdrop that Director Thea Sharrock delivers her viciously foul-mouthed mystery comedy, which at times leaves audiences gasping for air. The two main characters in opposition during this flick are played by two of the best actresses. England and Ireland have to offer.

Academy Award winner Olivia Coleman is cast as Edith Swan, an upright, polite, and devoutly Christian woman. Edith lives with both her parents (Timothy Spall and Gemma Jones), both of whom are God-fearing, yet morally questionable individuals. Timothy Spall, who plays Edward Swan, Edith’s traditional Scrooge like father is excellent in his role, adding a degree of uneasiness needed to bolster this story.

This quietly dysfunctional, but traditional family is juxtaposed by their out-of-sort Irish neighbours. Jessie Buckley plays an Irish immigrant called Rose Gooding, a loud-mouthed, witty, and capricious mother. Rose lives in an openly dysfunctional family of three (Malachi Kirby and Alisha Weir), all of whom are equally open-minded and up for a laugh.

As the story is set in motion, Edith is plagued by a string of heinous anonymous letters, which use a combination of just about every foul word imaginable. Spearheaded by her controlling father, they alert the local police. Despite little more than a hunch by the police based on her unusual demeanour, Rose winds up behind bars.

Anjana Vasan a hidden gem within this somewhat clouded comedy, pilots a strong performance as the so-called “woman police officer,” Gladys Moss. The consistently undermined Moss, suspects something is awry, and decides to defy the patriarchal regime of the force to uncover the truth behind Littlehampton’s little letters.

The truly enthralling subject matter is unfortunately let down by lack lustre writing, leading audiences to ponder what could have been…

Screen writer and Comedian Jonny Sweet unsuccessfully navigates the balance between comedy and mystery, often opting for a cheap laugh that hasn’t quite been merited, instead of natural story progression. In fact, the comedy itself is largely similar throughout the film, and becomes quite old quite quickly (after the third repeated punchline). The mystery aspect of the movie is quite the letdown, with any avid moviegoer spotting the solution from a mile away.

The strong opening and conclusion of the story are unfortunately left high and dry by a drawn out and tedious second act. Unfortunately, the movie puts most of its energy into repetitive comedy over drama and ends up running out of steam midway through. In fact, the limited dramatic aspects of this movie are the best parts, with the court scenes bringing about a tension the rest of the story needed.

Wicked little letters leaves a bittersweet taste after viewing. An easy to watch period piece that captivates audiences during its sub 2 hour run time. Primarily a comedy, which has some laugh-out-loud moments but becomes repetitive. Also, it sports a mystery that wouldn’t feel out of place in a children’s movie. However, all things considered the chemistry and astounding performances from Buckley, Coleman, Vasan and Spall, save the flick and leave the audience questioning what could have been.

Dylan Hand