Wicked Little Letters

15

Tuesday 16th July 2024

Doors open 7.30pm

Film starts 8pm

St Clements Church, Chorlton M21 9JF

£7

Director:

Thea Sharrock

Writer:

Jonny Sweet

Cast includes:

Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan and Timothy Spall

Summary:

A deliciously sweary poison-pen mystery.

The true tale of a foul-mouthed scribbler in 1920s Sussex is given nuance by a stellar cast including Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan and Timothy Spall

Before X or Twitter or even YouTube, if you wanted to vent your rage at an unjust world on a blameless bystander you had to go to the trouble of actually writing a letter and posting it. These were the days of the poison pen letter, an early 20th-century socio-criminal phenomenon here revived by comedian Jonny Sweet’s gleefully sweary script and a competent ensemble of British comedy’s finest directed by Thea Sharrock.

Swearwords, you see, can be very funny – especially when primly pronounced by a pious spinster such as Edith (Olivia Colman), who seems to be the letter writer’s primary target. Or when spurting forth from a potty-mouthed slattern such as Edith’s neighbour Rose (Jessie Buckley), on whom suspicion immediately falls. And these swearwords are particularly funny – a collection of naughty non sequiturs and rococo rantings that derive from the real letters of the Littlehampton libels, a forgotten scandal that terrorised this small Sussex town in the early 1920s. “Piss-country whore”? “Foxy-assed rabbit-fucker”? Epithets this fruity are clearly beyond the wit of man to invent. (And there’s your first clue to the letter writer’s identity.)

Some credit should therefore go to Christopher Hilliard, author of the well-researched 2017 book that brought the case back to public notice. It’s Sweet’s script, though, that successfully folds the true crime tale into an eminently exportable period-drama package. And it’s the cast – notably Anjana Vasan as the county’s lone female police officer and Timothy Spall as Edith’s domineering father – who allow for deeper exploration of the underlying motives for such aberrant behaviour. Swearing can be comic, but it might also be the way that a highly pressurised, repressive and patriarchal postwar society lets off a bit of steam.

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Ellen E Jones - Guardian