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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Wicked Little Letters (MA) - 100 minutes

You look at this and go “wow, surely this can’t possibly be true”. What a wacky and twisted tale.

 

And yet, lo and beyond, it is based on fact.

 

We are in the 1920s, in the seaside town of Littlehampton, some 80 kilometres from London.

 

Edward Swan (Timothy Spall) is incensed. His wife Victoria (Gemma Jones) is appalled.

Their puritanical, God-fearing daughter Edith (Olivia Colman), with whom they live, has just received her 19thprofanity-riddled letter.

 

The language in it is filthy, but her dominant and controlling father – whose rules dictate what goes down in their house – won’t stand for it a moment longer.

 

He marches into the local police station and demands that the constabulary acts.

 

That is despite the fact that Edith (with her “turn the other cheek” attitude) is reluctant to press charges.

Edward is in no two minds about who is responsible for writing and posting the poisoned missives.

 

According to him, it is their foul-mouthed, highly sexed, next door neighbour, Irish single mother Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley).

 

She migrated to the town with her young daughter Nancy (Alisha Weir) after the war, in which her husband died.

 

With them is her new love, Bill (Malachi Kirby).

In order to take action, police need a confirming statement from the woman to whom the letters were sent, namely Edith.

 

When that comes, the stakes are ratcheted up. Rose gets thrown into prison, awaiting a trial.

 

Only what seems to be an open and shut case is anything but.

 

Suspicion is first raised by policewoman Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan), who is just starting to build her career.

Mind you, this is a time when misogynism reins in the force … when female police officers are subjugated to their male counterparts.

 

Despite being warned off by her superior, Moss – whose father was a long-serving officer – persists with her investigation.

 

What she uncovers is outrageous, but when the matter does get to court more surprises are in store.

 

Seeing events unfold in Wicked Little Letters is like watching theatre of the absurd.

Writer Jonny Sweet and director Thea Sharrock have taken the right approach, ensuring the drama that ensues has a decidedly comedic bent.

 

In fact, this is far more a comedy than a drama.

 

How the actors kept straight faces throughout is a feat unto itself.

 

One of the finest actors of this generation, Olivia Colman is well cast as the conservative Edith, from whom we also get to see another side.

With a twinkle in her eyes, Jessie Buckley revels in her straight-talking persona. She is cheeky and cheery, and doesn’t take a backward step.

 

Timothy Spall is another standout as Edith’s irate and bombastic father.

 

Anjana Vasan impresses as the dogged and resourceful policewoman who responds even with her hands metaphorically tied behind her back.

 

Alisha Weir plays Nancy with no less a spark than her mother.

I also appreciated the period detail in Wicked Little Letters, the work of production designer Christina Casali.

 

This is a delightful little piece, an unexpected crowd pleaser and a real hoot that features a series of colourful players.

 

Rated MA, it scores a 7½ out of 10.

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