Wicked Little Letters review: A filthfest that’s too smug for its own good


Sweary wordplay: Olivia Coleman (left) and Eileen Atkins


Reviewed  by  John Nathan

In the 1920s, sleepy Littlehampton was given a rude awakening. A pious resident of the Sussex town began to receive insults in the form of anonymous letters. They were brimful of language that a scaffolder who had just watched his pint being downed by a city gent in a bowler hat might think a bit strong.

A neighbour was accused, the case became national news, a court case followed and a miscarriage of justice was eventually corrected when the true identity of the writer was revealed in Sherlock style using invisible ink.

Director Thea Sharrock could not have dreamt of a more impressive cast for her period comedy. It boasts Olivia Coleman as the prudish recipient of the letters and Jessie Buckley as Rose, the falsely accused free-spirited Irish single mother next door.

Meanwhile, the talent of the supporting cast is itself of to-die-for proportions with Gemma Jones as Edith’s mother, Timothy Spall as her bully of a father and a delicious cameo from Eileen Atkins whose watchful Mabel spots the injustice a mile off.Yet as episodic stories go, this one is no Dangerous Liasons. A sense of wasted opportunity builds as events unfold. The film’s humour is broader than the M1 and harvests the lowest possible hanging fruit as Anjana Vassan’s police officer Gladys Moss becomes a lightning rod for early 19th-century chauvinism. Paul Chahadi’s chief constable and Hugh Skinner as his constable sidekick are the main perpetrators and plod through plot with wearying predictability.

Other easy targets singled out by Jonny Sweet’s script include religious hypocrisy (Christian of course) and more generally the whole rotten patriarchal shebang of early 20th- century Little England.

Coleman as always is terrific. Her meek smile becomes tightlipped bitter resentment as her Edith puts the rude into prude and her refined cursive handwriting delights in sweary wordplay full of thrilling f words and sexually charged profanity.

Elsewhere, off-the-shelf stereotypes abound. Even Buckley’s sexually liberated and wise single mom is a predictably hell-raising hard drinker in the Irish mould.

There is an undoubted feel-good factor, but it is felt one suspects more by those who made the film more than those watching it. As Edith might have put it, more than once I wanted to take Sweet’s smug f…ing script and shove it right up his… .

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