Film Review: Wicked Little Letters – 7/10

‘Why would I send a letter when I can just say it?

Occasionally, a film will arrive in which the reviews confidently state the actors elevate the material. But what does that actually mean? Well, in the case of Wicked Little Letters, it means that despite being based on a true story, the plot here is pretty flimsy. The mystery at the centre of it is barely a mystery at all and to say this is definitely marketed a comedy, it’s not all that funny either. The thing that saves Thea Sharrock’s film from mediocrity is the quality of performance from its two leads…

We open with Edith Swan (Olivia Colman) clutching her pearls about an extremely offensive letter she has received from an unknown sender. As a devout Christian in a small, post-First-World-War village (Littlehampton in this case), language like “You foxy-arse old whore” inevitably causes a stir for the “old spinster”. Edith’s devout and domineering father Edward (Timothy Spall) rouses the local police force into action and they eventually arrest Swan’s next door neighbour Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley) – literally dragging her kicking and screaming from the pub, no less. Despite the real life Gooding being from Lewes, writer Jonny Sweet makes her an Irish migrant instead – allowing Buckley a rare opportunity to use her real accent. And she takes that opportunity by ensuring that all of her most sweary moments (of which there are many) are delivered in a poetic Irish brogue that adds some real depth to the litany of fucks, shits and cunts that she gleefully drops throughout the film. I may also add at this point that when Buckley initially started speaking my wife confidently started that Buckley’s accent was ‘rubbish’ before arrogantly declaring that she herself could have done a better job at delivering an Irish accent. It felt almost unkind to break the news to my wife that Buckley is in fact Irish and that her accent is genuine but break the news I did. Cue bewildered muttering. Rounding out the cast are the incompetent police force led by Constable Spedding (Paul Chahidi) and Constable Papperwick (Hugh Skinner) who do their level best to stop the actual police work being admirably performed by Woman Police Officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan – and yes, that was her real life counterpart’s official title).

This feels like a film that should be funny, but for some reason it isn’t. Sure, it elicits a smile every once in a while but most of the funniest moments are in the trailer and Spall overplays the malevolence of his character to such an extent that he drains the film of any humour any time he appears on screen. What makes the whole thing worthwhile is that Colman and particularly Buckley are so perfect, so effervescent, that everything else just gets swept away in the current of their respective performances. I could watch Buckley play this character for hours in any medium and any genre. Rose Gooding as a hard-boiled detective in New York in the 80s? Where do I sign? Rose Gooding battles German soldiers on the front line in 1939? I’m in. It’s such a sparkling and vivacious performance, and her interactions with Colman are so gleeful, that it doesn’t matter that the film going on around them isn’t up to much.

In the end, Wicked Little Letters must go down as a mild disappointment. I largely enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone looking for an easy watch, but there is a nagging feeling that it could have been so much more.