‘Wicked Little Letters’ Review: A Wickedly Entertaining 3-Hander

‘Wicked Little Letters’ Review: A Wickedly Entertaining 3-Hander

It’s easy to say something mean behind someone’s back without having to look that person directly in the eyes. The internet has become an all-too-inviting space for trolls to harass people from the comfort of their living rooms, reducing any stakes given that they can’t easily be identified or found. This phenomenon, however popular and widespread now, is not new to the digital age. Wicked Little Letters is an enthralling dramatization of a century-old real-life scandal involving a series of viciously rude letters sent from an anonymous source.

Edith Swan (Olivia Colman) lives at home with her overbearing father Edward (Timothy Spall) and more submissive mother Victoria (Gemma Jones) in England in the 1920s. The latest letter addressed to Edith is laced with profanity and cruel sentiments, prompting Edward to march down to the police station to demand the arrest of the prime suspect. Edith’s neighbor Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley) is an unapologetic loudmouth, but her assertion that she would never hide behind the anonymity of a pen throws her guilt into question. The police are all too unwilling to look deeper, with the exception of an enterprising female officer, Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan), who is certain that there is more going on than anyone else wants to admit.

Wicked Little Letters
Olivia Coleman as Edith Swan, Jessie Buckley as Rose Gooding in ‘Wicked Little Letters.’ Image: Parisa Taghizadeh. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

This film benefits greatly from three separate storylines that all converge together with three equally fantastic female protagonists. Colman is always superb, and here she plays a buttoned-up, devoutly religious woman who seems almost too nice, ready to burst because all she puts out into the world is good energy only to receive – still with a smile – such negativity directed back at her. Buckley is unhinged in the best possible way, portraying Rose as someone who doesn’t care at all what anyone thinks about her. Vasan’s performance may be the most fun, since Gladys is somehow who’s more intelligent than everyone around her but has to contend with uninhibited sexism dominating every moment of her professional life.

There’s a mystery at the heart of this comedy, and a marvelous creativity to the way in which each letter is laced with crude and off-putting insults that seem rooted in anything but reality. Figuring out who’s actually responsible involves an amusing subplot in which Gladys, who must introduce herself to everyone as Woman Police Officer Gladys Moss, something that Rose points out is all too obvious without her having to say it, assembles a group of local women to investigate her theories about the true culprit. Those escapades are fun, enhancing an already very effective and well-structured comedy with a bit of worthwhile intrigue. Jonny Sweet’s script is full of rich dialogue that speaks to the regional origins of its three protagonists with just the right anachronistic touches to make it feel a little more modern.

Wicked Little Letters
Anjana Vasan as Gladys Moss, Joanna Scanlan as Ann in ‘Wicked Little Letters.’ Image: Parisa Taghizadeh. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Colman and Buckley received Oscar nominations in 2021 for playing two versions of the same character in The Lost Daughter. It’s a real treat to see them now opposite each other in these parts portraying such different people. Buckley, who has previously delivered memorable sharp-tongued turns in Fargo and Women Talking, seems like the perfect fit for this part, embracing her character’s fearless individuality and bluntness in a wonderful way. Alongside Colman, Spall is expertly cast also as the definition of a stick in the mud, and this film’s best find is Killing Eve and We Are Lady Parts alum Vasan. The rhythm of this very particular period mystery-comedy is meticulously-calibrated, offering an enticing and deeply entertaining experience.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

Wicked Little Letters opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, March 29th before expanding to theaters nationwide on Friday, April 5th.

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