Film Review: Wicked Little Letters; Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley flex their profane vocabulary in wicked little comedy

Before the internet gave way to the keyboard warriors of the world, if there was a bystander of sorts that you wished to give a piece of your mind to (however warranted or not), one had to put pen to paper and post such.

In the early 20th century these were the days of the poison pen letter, a criminal phenomenon that director Thea Sharrock (Me Before You) and screenwriter Jonny Sweet, a British comedian, have revived for the profanely humorous Wicked Little Letters.

Swear words, when used or uttered correctly, can be awfully funny, and right from the get-go of Sharrock’s language-heavy comedy there’s a certain glee in hearing them coming from the mouth of Edith Swan (Olivia Colman, always a good time).  She’s rather prim and proper, so she’s merely reciting the foul language she’s received in a series of letters that have seemingly targeted her; “Piss-country whore”, just one of the delightful turn of phrases she’s referred to as.

A god-fearing woman, Edith can’t imagine why she’s receiving such insulting letters, and she practically has no choice but to point the finger at her neighbour, Rose Swan (Jessie Buckley), a profanity-heavy single mother, who has never made it a secret as to how she truly feels about whoever’s path she crosses.

But that’s where the conundrum of Wicked Little Letters plot lies.  Rose is so open with her wording that she’d have no need to hide behind an anonymous letter.  And Edith, as much as she believes she’s innocent, may have more enemies than she thinks.  As easy as it is to pin it on Rose – which the inept police attempt to do – there’s something far more psychologically sinister afoot, and Sweet’s script has an appropriate amount of wicked fun as it slowly unspools the culprit and their reasoning.

As much as the film bases its humour off its foul language – both Buckley and Colman’s tongues get a great vocabulary workout – there’s a deeper exploration throughout as to why someone would submit to such behaviour, and there’s something to be said about the power of words and the emotional impact of bullying and ultimate gaslighting.  It’s quite timely that there’s a wealth of relevance here – even with such a time period difference.

As serious as the story is at its core, Wicked Little Letters never entirely bogs itself under its intended commentary, and with the formidable pairing of Colman and Buckley at the helm, Sharrock’s zippy comedy remains a continually enjoyable excursion.  Sensitive ears may indeed find this wicked, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more satisfying use of blasphemy than how it’s utilised here.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Wicked Little Letters is now screening in Australian theatres.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.