By Madeleine Wall
Set in 1920s Littlehampton, England, Thea Sharrock’s Wicked Little Letters is a winking, ahistorical comedy. The upright and morally superior Edith Swan (Olivia Colman) has been receiving expletive laden poison pen letters. Living under the thumb of her father Edward (Timothy Spall) each one shakes the repressed household to their core. They eventually turn to the police, for they feel there can only be one culprit: their free spirited neighbour Rose (Jessie Buckley). Rose is an Irish immigrant, a single mother, happy to drink, fuck, and swear with the best of them. She is also a loving mother and initially a good friend to Edith, but due to her unsavoury nature is quickly arrested for the crime.
Police Officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan), the only woman officer, thinks this is all rather fishy, and starts to look into the case, despite the disapproval from her senior and incompetent colleagues. It’s no surprise that Rose didn’t do it, nor will it be a surprise to anyone but the characters in the film that Edith has been writing those letters to herself.
Colman and Spall are well cast as father and daughter, both with a roiling rage beneath their insistence on moral decency, and one wishes that everyone was given better material to work with. Though it has its feminist framing, all of this happens due to the pressures of women conforming to society; it is both heavy handed and shallow. Most of the humour comes from the incompetent male police officers, a cute problem that the ever able Officer Moss can work around, and the more interesting question as to why Edith was writing these letters is never really explored. Still, the film knows its audience, and the retiree matinee crowd will certainly be delighted.