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TIFF 2023 Review: Wicked Little Letters – “A joyous, light-hearted comedy”

Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman in WICKED LITTLE LETTERS. Courtesy of TIFF

“This is more true than you’d think” states the beginning of Wicked Little Letters.  And the fact that this is based on a true story is probably the most fantastic part of the entire thing.

In the 1920’s in the picturesque seaside town of Littlehampton, England trouble is brewing.  The household of Edith Swan (Olivia Colman) has just received its 19th crude, obscene letter in the mail.  Her parents (played by Gemma Jones and Timothy Spall) are beside themselves.  Edith is a pious woman, a person of virtue and morality.  Sure, she may be a little boastful of her accomplishments but generally she has friends in the town.  So when these letters arrive spewing the most foul-mouthed insults at Edith, action must be taken.

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Taking their concerns to the local police station, the officer’s mediocre ‘investigation’ concludes that it must be the work of the Swans’ next-door neighbour Rose (Jessie Buckley), especially since she’s well known for cussing around town, drinking at the pub and generally being ‘unladylike’.  Though the other officers in her precinct have quickly closed the case, ‘Woman Police Officer’ Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan), as she always introduces herself, is not convinced Rose is the culprit.  As she is a woman and therefore not allowed to do the sleuthing, she takes it upon herself, with the help of some colourful Littlehampton women, to uncover the truth, especially as the letters begin to arrive all around town.

Director Thea Shamrock, whose previous work included the tearjerker Me Before You, plays it relatively safe with Wicked Little Letters.  This is a well-shot, well-lit, well-scored, little mystery but it doesn’t take a lot of risks.  That said it doesn’t need to.  It’s a crowd-pleaser of a film that delivers the laughs.  It knows exactly what it is, at moments being completely ridiculous, but it commits and it works.

All the men in the town, save for one perhaps, are misogynistic jerks who only have respect for  women if they “know their role.”  Shamrock and screenwriter Jonny Sweet lay it all out there without a lot of subtlety.  But they have two leads (and a wonderful supporting cast including a scene-stealing Vasan) who are more than game to have, what looks like, the time of their lives.

Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman are fantastic together.  Buckley lays it all out as free-spirited Rose (another ‘Wild Rose‘ per se) who stands up against the men of the town and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, no matter what words she uses.  And they are often colourful – that language! on a Wednesday even! So she’s a stark contrast to Edith who wouldn’t think of speaking up even against the harsh words of her father, and their friendship has benefits for them both.  Colman has some more reactive facial expressions here which work wonderfully, but once her character finds her voice, Rose and Edith’s expletive laden showdown at the film’s climax is a comical wonder to behold (and I can’t wait to watch it again).

Wicked Little Letters is a joyous, light-hearted comedy, the kind you don’t get to see much at a festival and it was a delightful break from some of the darker fare.  It’s not often that you hear as much laughter at a festival theatre.  Then again it’s not often you get to see women on screen, and in particular in period costume, cuss their hearts out.  But here we are, and the world is a brighter place for it.

Wicked Little Letters had its world premiere Saturday, September 9th at the Toronto International Film Festival.  For more information head to

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