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Wicked Little Letters dallies where it should pick up pace, skirts big themes where it should be addressing them head-on and contents itself with mild barbs where it should go for the throat.

It all starts off so intriguingly. A quirky, quintessentially British interbellum village as a setting. A true story about a God-fearing woman receiving cuss-filled anonymous letters, supposedly sent by her feuding neighbour. A reunion of Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley after both received Oscar noms for The Lost Daughter. And yet it doesn’t take long for Wicked Little Letters to lose your interest.

The main reason is that the film just never gets the tone right. On the one hand it leans into an Ealing comedy vibe, with plenty of offbeat characters to go around in the village and the colourful language of the titular letters providing sniggering delight. But then the picture also wants to add a bit of suspense, a bit of social commentary, a bit everything really without succeeding at any of it.

This is most evident in the subplot of Anjana Vasan’s ‘woman police officer’ fighting for recognition. The sentiment behind it is right, but it just doesn’t gel well with the other moving elements in Wicked Little Letters. The same goes for just about every other subplot in the film, as the central message gets more muddled with each passing minute.

Also contributing to the overall disappointing spirit of the film are the uninspired performances. When, next to Colman and Buckley, you have Gemma Jones, Timothy Spall, Eileen Atkins and more British acting royalty in your film, you expect at least one memorable role between them, but they all seem to be operating in different styles, moods and tones. Only Joanna Scanlan’s hygiene-challenged chicken-loving town excentric manages to make an impression.

Yet what ultimately soured me on Wicked Little Letters is the forced effort to paint the film’s villain as a sympathetic character. It tries to give redemption to a two-faced person with little empathy. Once again: a severe tonal mistake and one that nearly totally ruined the film for me in its final stretch.

release: 2024

director: Thea Sharrock

starring: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Timothy Spall, Anjana Vasan


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