Wicked Little Letters

During the immediate post-WWI years, the small town of Littlehampton, England was beset by a minor disparagement known as the Littlehampton Letters Scandal, in which a prim and proper pillar-of-her-church local named Edith Swan received a plethora of mean-spirited accusatory letters which today could only be described as hate mail.  Anymore, not much is known or remembered about this chapter of Littlehampton history, but British director Thea Sharrock’s latest effort “Wicked Little Letters” attempts to fill in some of the blanks.  The result is one of those charming British comedies that we all wish were a little more prevalent in today’s world of sarcastic Hollywood film offerings.  (And I say this with the caveat that the language in “Wicked Little Letters” is harsh.)

The set-up

Ms. Swan is played by the affable Olivia Coleman, and simply knowing that tidbit tells you all you need to know about the character.  In other words, how you presume Coleman would play the character is exactly how she plays it.  Good-natured to a fault, Coleman’s Edith is as appalled by the letters as her parents (played by Timothy Spall and Gemma Jones), but she always tries to find some good in everyone.  And here, she believes the letter-writer can be saved and converted to a life of Christianity.

Eventually, Spall’s father character has had enough.  He files a complaint with the local police/constable office, and our story begins.  The presumed perpetrator is the Swan’s newish next-door-neighbor Rose Gooding, a free-spirited widow with a sailor’s mouth who takes an instant disliking to Edith, most likely due to their widely divergent approaches to life.  Played by the always brilliant Jessie Buckley, this makes the second pairing of Coleman and Buckley, following 2021’s “The Lost Daughter.”  It also marks the second time Buckley has played a character named Rose, following 2018’s “Wild Rose.”

The more interesting story

Wicked Little Letters” would clock in at about 30 minutes if Rose were in fact guilty of composing and writing the poisonous anonymous letters.  But you know there has to be more to this story than meets the eye, right?  And in fact, young female constable Gladys Moss (played by Singaporean actress Anjana Vasan, in the film’s best performance) has her doubts.  Ridiculed by her superiors and the townfolk as incompetent, due to the fact that she is a woman, Gladys takes it upon herself to discover the real criminal, even though Chief Constable Spedding (Paul Chahidi) threatens to fire her should she “meddle” in the case.  And when I say she is ridiculed, Edith’s father won’t even file his complaint with her; he asks for a man.

For my money, this story line (the young female cracking the case) is more interesting than the case itself.  Vasan has been around a little while (She had a small part in 2021’s “Cyrano” with Peter Dinklage), but this is her meatiest role.  She plays it somewhat like Tony Revolori in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” or Geraldine Viswanathan in the recent “Drive-Away Dolls” – very matter-of-fact, but with a softer, helpful side.  There’s a certain comradery between Gladys and Rose, as each has been discriminated against, albeit for different reasons.  For us viewers, the real perpetrator is revealed somewhat early on, but the thrill of “Wicked Little Letters” is in watching Gladys produce evidence which will stand up in court.

Thoroughly engaging

This is one of those amusing and thoroughly engaging British comedy-dramas we get about once a year (like “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” or the recent Bill Nighy vehicle “Living”), and we wish there were more of them.  Is “Wicked Little Letters” going to make my year-end Top Ten List?  Probably not.  There is bound to be a myriad of top-notch “serious” films making the Oscar rounds late in the year.  But I wouldn’t discard pictures like this for anything.  We are all better for enjoying small, intimate films like this one, which don’t take life too seriously.  “Wicked Little Letters” is a true joy, and probably my favorite so far in 2024.







Andy Ray‘s reviews also appear on https://townepost.com/.

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