Director: Thea Sharrock
Screenplay: Jonny Sweet
Producers: Graham Broadbent, Olivia Colman, Peter Czernin, Ed Sinclair, Jo Wallett
Starring: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan, Timothy Spall
Year: 2023
Country: UK
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 100 mins

Wicked Little Letters is a film that seemed to pick up a head of positive critical steam after early reviews were comparatively dismissive. My reaction to the film was roughly the reverse of this trajectory. While I was watching it, I enjoyed it very much. Its 100 minutes flew by, I laughed several times and was intrigued by the largely true story of a prim Christian woman who begins receiving vulgar poison pen letters and points the finger at her Irish migrant neighbour. But as the credits rolled, I was left feeling somewhat empty. I’d enjoyed the experience, no doubt, but I had no sense of satisfaction afterwards. The problem seemed to be that Wicked Little Letters’ slightly flippant treatment of its fascinating material misses the opportunity to explore issues of mental illness, sexual repression and small town prejudice with anything but the most cursory insight.

At this point it could be argued that deeper analysis of themes need not be a necessity when enjoyment is enough. I agree to some extent. At the very least, I was unwilling to relinquish the positivity of the experience, in the same way I wouldn’t write off a cream cake as useless because it didn’t fill me up. Wicked Little Letters shouldn’t be condemned for not being exactly the film for which I’d hoped. As a deliberately theatrical take on its story, its exaggerations are actually rather delightful. The cast all seem to be having a ball at the very least, and they are a blast to watch too. Olivia Colman continues to impress as Edith Swan, the uptight target of the letter-writing campaign, while Jessie Buckley lets loose in a boisterous performance as the accused. Timothy Spall is perfectly hateful as Edith’s suffocating traditionalist father and Anjana Vasan is invigoratingly spunky as a crusading police officer. Given its themes of prejudice, some have argued that the film’s colourblind casting works against it and makes it confusing that vehemently prejudiced characters complaining about someone’s Irish heritage don’t seem to even notice they are also rubbing shoulders with people of colour. But then the fact that this goes unnoticed is surely part of the point of colourblind casting and the strength of Vasan’s performance should be exhibit A in the case for the defence.

One of the main problems I had with Wicked Little Letters was its elusive tone. Jonny Sweet’s screenplay manages to balance the dramatic thrust of the story with the absurdity of the florid swearing very well, while Buckley’s Rose and her clashes with the buttoned-up, misogynistic community provide an equally pleasing juxtaposition. But the tone is thrown off when the comedy aims for daft belly laughs, leading to one of those fleeting but conspicuous fart gags that almost invariably inspires a facepalm. The wonderful Joanna Scanlan is lumbered with a role that provides most of these silly asides and every time she shows up the film trips over itself. Hugh Skinner and Paul Chahidi’s sexist coppers also feel a tad one-note, although to be fair the blatant misogyny their characters represent is hardly a thing of great nuance. Wicked Little Letters also feels a little bit televisual in its modest visual design, Thea Sharrock’s broad direction and the relaxed caricaturing of the cast. I wonder if my own prejudices play a part in my middling rating here and whether I might have rated it more highly had it been a TV movie rather than a cinema release.

For all my picking at its faults, I think the appropriate conclusion to this review is to reiterate the key point that I enjoyed Wicked Little Letters. I was put in mind of Tom George’s See How They Run, another very flawed but deeply likeable British Crime film that was never going to trouble my end of year list but which made me smile for 100 minutes nonetheless. Wicked Little Letters is the sort of film I’d watch again if it came on TV, that I’d smile fondly about if someone mentioned it, or even the sort of film I’d recommend to anyone looking for a light entertainment with a slightly dark edge.

Wicked Little Letters is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Studiocanal on 13 May 2024. Special features are as follows :

* Frenemies – Featurette
* Trolling in the Twenties – Featurette
* True Story – Featurette

Where to watch Wicked Little Letters
Wicked Little Letters
3.5Overall Score
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