Wicked Little Letters is a wonderful film of high ideals and important truths told in a cheeky, fun comedy that just happens to actually be true.


The opening title card says it all, “This story is more true than you’d think”! For 1920’s Littlehampton, England the events that take place in Wicked Little Letters, were incredibly scandalous. 100 years later, they make for a cheeky film that delivers its story with a wink and a nod, perhaps convincing you that this can’t possibly be true, but alas was. A fantastic cast brings it all together in Thea Sharrock’s comedy from a script by Jonny Sweet.

Edith Swan (Olivia Colman) is the eldest daughter of Edward (Timothy Spall) and Victoria (Gemma Jones) Swan, a conservative family who have brought Edith and their other 10 children up on the ways of God. Edward, however, while claiming to be righteous, is seen as a strict disciplinarian who is foul-mouthed and racist. His eldest daughter Edith, despite being in her 40’s, still cowers like a small child when her father starts his constant tirades. Victoria silently makes herself subservient to such blustering, as that is seen to be the pious and virtuous way a wife should be by their beliefs.

Next door, however, is another story. Next door to the Swans lives Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley), a foul-mouthed and permiscuous young widow with a daughter, Nancy (Alisha Weir), who is also living with a black man named Bill (Malachi Kirby), which was already scandal enough for this quiet seaside town. Edith tried to befriend Rose and despite her strict religious beliefs, would even smile as Rose would light into someone with a string of obscenities. This new friendship all comes crashing down once the letters start arriving in the Swan’s post.

When the film begins, we are told that its the 19th letter. Each of them are full of all manner of filthy vulgarities and profanity. After their falling out, Rose becomes target number one as Edward Swan tells his daughter, in no uncertain terms, that she is to report this at once to the police. Constable Pepperwick (Hugh Skinner) and Chief Constable Spedding (Paul Chahidi) waste no time arresting Rose and sending her to prison to await trial, but “Female Police Officer” Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) has other suspicions and begins her own investigation. Wicked Little Letters becomes a fun who-done-it mystery as Officer Moss tries to uncover if Rose really is guilty, or if someone else in this small town might have motives to send these vile letters.

While the film itself is a fun and entertaining story, it also is able to flesh out a suprising number of subjects that are remarkably current today, and would have been extrodinarily rare for 1920’s England. Interracial relationships, racism, social hierarchy, religion, sexism in the workplace and also in the broader world, are all represented within this story. Refreshingly, the film isn’t preachy but sticks to the old axiom that film should “show, don’t tell”. There doesn’t need to be a neon sign broadcasting what is right or wrong when you have a simple story where these things are plainly evident and intrigal to the larger narrative just by it being present. Wicked Little Letters provides this perfectly.

Olivia Colman is her usual excellent self, and it is fun to watch her and Timothy Spall go head to head given the dynamic portrayed here between father and daughter. Jessie Buckley is also very good at playing the multifaceted Rose. Rose is loud, brash, with lots of moxie who also must demonstrate tenderness, love, and concern for her daughter. Buckley balances these contrasting aspects of her character brilliantly. She also is a great foil to Colman’s Edith as the two have great chemistry whether their characters are existing as friends, and especially when they are enemies.

The real scene stealer of the film, however, is Anjana Vasan’s performance as “Female Police Officer” Gladys Moss. She is the embodiment of competence, professionalism, empathy, and fact-based decisions in a department full of incompetence coupled with institutional power structures. Everyone calls her “Female Police Officer” instead of just “Officer” purely because they see a female police officer as something less. Constable Pepperwick and Chief Constable Spedding embody the worst notions of “Boy’s Club” as a description of how their department operates. Despite the sexism and racism (as she is of Indian decent) she faces, both within her department and in the general public, Vasan gives Officer Moss a strong, noble, and quiet dignity that rises above all of those around her. She is the moral compass of this story and Vasan displays this beautifully in her performance.

Wicked Little Letters is a strong R-rated film solely based on the vulgarity contained in the aforementioned wicked letters that are sent through the post and because the way profanity and verbal vulgarity plays into the larger story and humor. This is not simply gratuituous content being thrown into a film, but it is central to the story and how we see these characters, including how we judge the innocence and guilt of those around us. Wicked Little Letters is a wonderful film of high ideals and important truths told in a cheeky, fun, comedy that just happens to actually be true.