Wicked Little Letters review | Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman shine in this sweary drama

wicked little letters review
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Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley star in Thea Sharrock’s very sweary true life story. Here’s our Wicked Little Letters review. 

Director Thea Sharrock’s Wicked Little Letters is based on the real scandal that shook the town of Littlehampton in the 1920s. We wouldn’t recommend reading any more on the events – it’ll just spoil most of the film’s fun. 

Olivia Colman plays Edith, a devout Christian who lives with her tyrannical father (Timothy Spall) and mother (Gemma Jones). She’s the exact opposite of her neighbour Rose (Jessie Buckley), a rambunctious and foul-mouthed mother to young Nancy. When Edith begins to receive horrible, insulting letters that contain the exact kind of language that Rose likes to use, a war between the two neighbours is ignited. 

Wicked Little Letters doesn’t hold many surprises in terms of its narrative, but it is an absolute hoot. This is a film of simple pleasures, mainly that of listening to Colman and Buckley go head to head in finding the most innovative insult involving a synonym for female anatomy. There are C-words aplenty in Wicked Little Letters, so approach with care if that kind of thing insults you. 

wicked little letters jessie buckley
Credit: StudioCanal.

Both actresses are on fine form here. Colman especially is able to tap into the character’s internalised misogyny delicately but powerfully. Rose isn’t always awarded as much nuance, but Buckley’s committed turn keeps you watching. Colman and Buckley create a fizzing, searing dynamic between the two women. Anjana Vasan is also particularly compelling as the town’s only woman police officer, Gladys Moss. 

Where screenwriter Jonny Sweet struggles is with the film’s men. This is clearly a film about misogyny and women, but the men are so paper-thin, the core of the film’s message is almost lost. Spall and Malachi Kirby, who plays Rose’s boyfriend, are both wasted in roles that are frustratingly broadly drawn. 

Sharrock also directs the film frustratingly blindly when it comes to race. Not only is Rose loud and sweary, she’s also in a relationship with a Black man and Gladys faces not just misogyny but racism at work. Neither element is ever directly addressed, which leaves Wicked Little Letters feeling a little naive. 

Sharrock treads the thin line between drama and comedy well, but surprisingly, the film works better as a drama. Although set in the 1920s, the narrative feels painfully true to today’s anonymous online posting and trolling, but Sharrock never tries to forcefully underline the connection. 

Wicked Little Letters is at its best when it focuses on the letters themselves. It’s easy fun; who doesn’t love Olivia Colman swearing for 100 minutes? Sweet’s script is full of snappy dialogue and outrageously funny lines, but the film’s real achievement is how it manages to showcase the effects of internalised misogyny. 

Wicked Little Letters is in UK cinemas 23rd February. 

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