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Wicked Little Letters (2023) | Review

By Grace Taylor

Rating: 3/5

Image: Philip Watts on flickr. License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Upon receiving letters full of profanities and threats, the residents of a West Sussex town accuse the boisterous Rose (Jessie Buckley) of sending the explicit post.

This dramatic comedy tells the real-life story of Littlehampton's early 20s poison-pen scandal. It is less of a whodunit, as very early on, we find out who the culprit is. 

There is an undercurrent of social commentary based on women's role after the First World War. The humour sets the social context; hysteria over women becoming 'unladylike' in a time of great societal repression. However, I felt as though attempts to highlight women's suffrage and more profound meaning were almost lost under the sea of profanity. The director couldn't decide if it was a comedy mystery or a social comment on the 1920s.

Officer Moss was portrayed by Anjana Vasan, who gave an excellent performance of a woman fighting for equality in the workplace, which is an ongoing issue today. Her character further highlighted the movie's social context and the woman's position. Olivia Coleman wonderfully played Edith, the initial recipient of the letters.

Her performance of the repressed spinster perfectly showed how she was trying to find a way out of the life she leads, and finally finding her voice. 

Timothy Spall took on the role of Edith’s father, giving a convincing performance as the domineering and insular man, scared of societal shifts after the war. The cast provided outstanding performances but were insufficient to save the weak plot. The story was a big task, and I think this portrayal became confusing. 

Image: Steve Knight on flickr. License: CC BY 2.0 DEED Attribution 2.0 Generic

I enjoyed the movie, but the comedy is based solely on sweary women. Listening to straight-laced characters relay obscenities became a little tedious. Though based on a true story, the movie does take creative liberties. The story feels slightly unbelievable. Edith's character seems to have no real motive for her actions. The way she pins the accusation on Rose makes little sense when she repeatedly says how much she likes her. Was she just jealous of her life? Did she wish to be free like her? It feels far-fetched to get oneself imprisoned to escape her life. 

Despite the outdated attitudes and the bizarre language, the way women are framed in the story emulates the constant battle of women today and their fight for equality. 

I believe the way women are spoken about in the film reflects today's social media and the barrage of hate many women face for not fitting into socially constructed notions of how they should and shouldn't behave. Also, the language used throughout sometimes felt out of place. Perhaps the choice of language was intentional, but Rose's character felt too modern and didn't fit with the historical context. In the closing remarks, "I'll write to you" "I'll brace myself," it was unclear where Rose and Edith stood. It felt unbelievable that Rose wouldn't care that Edith pinned a jailable offence on her. The lack of animosity between the two was left unexplained. 

Though I cannot say this was the most memorable film I have seen, I was entertained. Wicked Little Letters is a wickedly funny and charming British comedy for those who don't mind a swear word…or twenty! 


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