Wicked Little Letters [5/10]

Please, please save me from any further “based on a true story” films. I have said this before and it remains true: for some reason, the girdle of factuality almost always saps the plotline, script, and dialogue of artistry. So too with Wicked Little Letters, a currently popular, very British, “juicy” (as in the centrality of cussing) comedy. In a classic English town, Littlehampton, poison pen letters full of profane, sexual stupidity arrive in the letterboxes of the prim, proper residents, who, naturally, are shocked. Edith, a repressed spinster under the thumb of a truly bigoted father, is the first to receive the missives, and based on her say-so, the buffoonish police arrest neighbour Rose, a spirited, take-no-prisoners Irish blow-in. From this early plot premise, we follow the only “good cop,” and indeed the first ever female policeman, Gladys, as she hesitantly seeks justice.

Let me give credit to the elements of Wicked Little Letters that work: the village atmosphere is rendered atmospherically. You will hear fulsome praise of Olivia Colman’s expressive portrayal of Edith, of Jessie Buckley’s characteristically true rendering of Rose, Anjana Wasan’s “look at my expressive eyes” turn as Gladys, and also Timothy Spall’s grotesque depiction of the cartoonish father, and yes, all show considerable artistry. But the script they work with turns most scenes into “staged” moments that never convince. The deferred “plot twist” is telegraphed way too early. Worst of all, the copious profanity should send us into fits of laughter but instead sounds like kids playing at swearing. By the time we arrive at the ham-fisted “climax,” boredom has long set in.

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