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'Wicked Little Letters' Review

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March 28, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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What would you rather be: Polite and with a stick up your ass, or vulgar and sincere? To the delight of all stick sellers, 99% of the residents living in the 1920s seaside English town within Wicked Little Letters side with the former camp. It’s an area that is as conservative as they come, with all the men returning from The Great War wanting to settle down and have the women back in their place. “Hysteria and general tears” is what passes for a crime, with the only bit of controversy being the appointment of Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) as the first female police officer. That is, until the Irish Rose Gooding (Jesse Buckley) moves in next door to Edith Swan (Olivia Colman) and her strict parents (Timothy Spall and Gemma Jones).

Rose and Edith are a tale of polar opposites. Rose is a free-spirit who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and swear like a sailor. She came over with a young daughter and an unmarried love interest. Edith is a Christian woman who never married and is always dutiful to her parents. So, when Edith and several of the town’s residents start receiving exceptionally hateful and foul letters, you can imagine who they all accuse.

Writer Jonny Sweet has set the stage for a modern-day (at least when compared to the source material) Crucible. This time, instead of the free-spirits being labeled as witches, they’re barbaric heathens that die the slow death of social rejection. There are several helpings surrounding the debate of gender roles, specifically on women’s freedom during a pivotal moment in the twentieth century. It’s all very surface-level and done with a winking attitude, portraying all the men as domineering buffoons.

Also hammered home several times over is the hilarity of swear words, especially within a setting that is the antithesis of vulgarity like Puritan England. The words “fuck,” “shit,” “whore,” and “cock” get more prominent use here than they did in a Martin Scorsese movie. While it’ll likely play like gangbusters at your local AARP-sponsored screening, everyone else not drawing from Social Security will shrug their shoulders after its second or third use. And by the thirtieth scene where the punch line is that someone says “fuck,” you’ll be more likely to say “fuck this” and leave.

Colman and Buckley are clearly having fun with the roles, reveling in the opportunity to act together after never being able to share the same space in The Lost Daughter (they played the same character at different ages). The over-reliance on dirty words is made palatable thanks to the deliveries of the two actresses, each salivating at the chance to have characters that are given a modicum of agency during this period.

There really isn’t much suspense about who the author of the letters is, with Sweet and director Thea Sharrock spelling it out in as bold a print as possible. It’s all light and fancy-free, almost too much for its own good. But a healthy movie ecosystem needs to offer products for the older crowds (see 80 for Brady and anything else Diane Keaton is doing these days), so take your grandparents out to the cinema before you go see Civil War.

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