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Wicked Little Letters ★★★



Released: 23rd February 2024

Director: Thea Sharrock

Starring: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Timothy Spall. Anjana Vasan, Gemma Jones, Joanna Scanlan, Eileen Atkins

Some stories are almost too unbelievable to be true stories, the plot of a quaint seaside town in 1920s England being rocked by a sweary scandal fits this bill. Yet the town of Littlehampton was thrust into the national spotlight, when Edith Swan started receiving a set of poison pen letters with language of the bluest kind. Thea Sharrock brings us the dramatisation of these events in Wicked Little Letters with Olivia Colman as Edith and Jessie Buckley as Rose Gooding her trouble-making foul-mouthed neighbour, who is initially believed to be behind the string of letters.

The plot couldn’t be further from the cosy British period drama we’ve become accustomed to with its less-than-kid-friendly language. Beyond the letters themselves, however, it struggles with making the most out of its starry cast, including Timothy Spall, Gemma Jones and Eileen Atkins. Quite frustrating with such unique material, that it doesn’t overcome the pitfalls of period dramas and cliché.

It sometimes resembles 2022’s See How They Run, with a prominent role for the likable Anjana Vasan as WPC Gladys Moss. The investigation into the true writer(s) of the letters led by Moss and a mismatched crew of local women is fun and provides some hilarity into what can sometimes feel stale despite the letters’ language.

Buckley and Colman will never be less than watchable, but this film never gives them the kind of material they have been afforded elsewhere. For such a wild story, it is a shame that outside of the letters themselves, there is nothing overly provocative or drastic, making the wild story rather tame.

It is remarkable that this story went under the radar for so many despite being a national scandal at the time, it shows the power of community spirit and how first appearances can be dangerous, something all too true of the social media age.

Wicked Little Letters is far from a total disaster but with the storyline at its core and the calibre of cast attached to it, there was an opportunity to push this beyond the trappings of British period dramas that it still manages to fall into. The cast keeps things afloat and watchable, but it is hard not to think that this could have been something truly fantastic with the Oscar- nominated and winning talent at its heart.

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