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  • Benjamin May

Wicked Little Letters (2023) Review

It is the 1920’s and in the picturesque seaside village of Littlehampton, trouble is brewing. Spinster Edith Swan begins receiving anonymous, obscene letters, which her father thinks are coming from their young Irish neighbour, Rose Gooding. Gooding denies sending the malicious mail, though few in the village believe her. It is up to female police officer Gladys Moss, alongside a couple of sympathetic ladies, to prove Gooding’s innocence and catch the real culprit before she is convicted.

Based on a true story, Thea Sharrock’s ‘Wicked Little Letters’ is a lightweight comic-drama, neither very funny nor dramatic. Screenwriter Jonny Sweet succumbs to the familiar, false thought that coarse language equates to comedic gold. In addition, the narrative is neither particularly mysterious or suspenseful. Moreover, his characterisation is based almost entirely on cliched stereotypes: prim, proper English conservatives, rowdy Irish women and bumbling policemen included. Furthermore, the world of the film is unbelievable, containing not a trace of racism whatsoever, while the sexism exhibited throughout is utilised mainly as a joke.

In many ways, it is an old-fashioned film, trying to say something clever about misogyny, while also playing into misogynistic attitudes. The women- bar officer Moss- are stereotypes dialled up to the max, with little to no depth or nuance, Gooding in particular. Your typical boisterous, hard-drinking, loud Irish lass; the archaic cliches that inform her character are almost insulting. Although there are some funny moments and lines of dialogue, the film is not as entertaining as perhaps it could have been.

Additionally, it is laden with uninspired visuals. Cinematographer Ben Davis shoots proceedings conventionally, without flair or ingenuity. Although the production values are commendable, and Charlotte Walter’s costume design appears period accurate, it is a flat looking picture all the same. Furthermore, Isobel Waller-Bridge’s generic score lacks suspense or excitement, sounding as dull and as underwhelming as much of Sweet’s dialogue.

Casting director Jina Jay has assembled a talented cast of performers, most of whom do commendable work. Jessie Buckley is great as Gooding, overcoming the cliched characterisation of the role. Olivia Colman is typically excellent as the uptight Swan, although neither she nor Buckley are given much of a challenge, acting-wise. Anjana Vasan does the strongest work of all as officer Moss, while Timothy Spall and Joanna Scanlan are similarly excellent as Swan’s austere father and a pig farmer, respectively.

Although it is well acted, Thea Sharrock’s ‘Wicked Little Letters’ is not particularly entertaining, clever or original. With an underwhelming narrative, cliched characters, drab visuals and a generic score, it does not impress much. Although Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman both give strong performances, they aren’t in any way challenged, and have been much better in other projects. Despite the fact that Anjana Vasan and Timothy Spall impress greatly, this film is forgettable and not as wickedly enjoyable as it could have been.


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