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Wicked Little Letters

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In Theaters


Home Release Date




Bob Hoose

Movie Review

By the time Edith received the 19th letter—packed with exceedingly crass and shockingly profane diatribes—her elderly father had endured enough. He was going to the constables.

They all know where the blue missives are coming from. It has to be the foulmouthed, heavy-drinking Irish woman who lives in the rowhouse next door. Rose is her name. She’s a single mother of a young girl, God save her. And she has a live-in boyfriend named Bill. Even for forward-thinking folks in the 1920s, this woman amounts to trouble with a capital T.

Truth is, Edith originally befriended Rose. They would walk together on the beach near Littlehampton and laugh over the things of life. Rose’s raw sexual language would make Edith blush—much the same as Rose’s wall-thumping late-night sex did—but Edith soldiered on in the hope of bringing the younger woman to God.

Then the letters began to arrive. The sheltered and middle-aged Edith had never read or heard such crude things before. They were filled with ugly sexual comments about Edith’s bodily orifices and her secret depraved behaviors. But she’s never had sexual relations in her entire life!

“There’s only one judge, and we are all judged equally,” Edith piously declares when Rose’s name comes up. She doesn’t want to make a big deal about the foul letters. But her father rages about them. And then when her mother says that she could be an example to others for her virtue and sacrifice, Edith finally decides to go make a statement to the police.

Of course, as mentioned, Rose is Irish. And she has a questionable lifestyle and a mysteriously missing husband. So the community eagerly believes Edith, and Rose is summarily locked up. The local paper even writes a glowing article about Edith and the abuse she has suffered.

It’s right about at that point, though, that a local policewoman named Gladys Moss begins to wonder if they got the right person. Gladys is told by her supervisor to keep her trainee nose out of it, but the evidence doesn’t all fit.

Gladys’ deceased father was a constable himself.  And he always lifted up the law, always stood for truth and justice.

And Gladys, young and inexperienced as she is, can do no less.

Positive Elements

There aren’t many positives here, but we do see Rose’s deep love for her 10-year-old daughter, Nancy. And Rose and Nancy’s relationship is made closer because of the difficulties they endure.

Rose’s boyfriend, Bill, is a consistent and caring man who doesn’t walk away when things get tough. And it’s clear that both Rose and Nancy love him.

Several of the local women go out of their way to raise bail for Rose and then strive to prove her innocence.

Spiritual Elements

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following section.]

Edith’s family members are Christians—at least that’s how they hope to present themselves to the world around them.

The truth is, however, that only Edith’s mother is genuinely devout. Edith’s father is a rather vile and angry man who’s ready to scream and rant at any difficulty in his life. And Edith herself is hiding a dark secret that she repeatedly tries to cover with scriptural platitudes. She speaks of God’s grace and her desire to bring others to Him, but underneath all that she is a broken person who hurts others rather than reaching out to God.

In fact, the film implies that Christian faith and society’s “moral undergirding” are both based on fabricated lies that oppress rather than free people. The empowered, happy people here are those who step away from moral constraints and societal expectations.

By the tale’s end, Rose confronts Edith’s own bad choices. “And I thought if I could only be like you, I could be all right,” she sighingly tells her.

Sexual Content

Throughout, Rose and the read-out loud letters speak in crude and salty sexual terms. When unleashed, both women tend to make others blanch.

The camera watches Edith’s reactions as, late one night, Rose and Bill have boisterous sex in the next room over. Elsewhere, Rose exposes her bare backside to police while running away.

We see a local woman in a lowcut, cleavage-baring top. Edith’s father rudely states that some men will pin Edith’s picture from the newspaper to their privy wall.

Violent Content

Rose is accidentally hit in the face with a spade, knocking her out. She also gets angry at a man at a birthday party and headbutts him, knocking him back onto a table. The police manhandle a young woman on a couple different occasions.

When Edith’s mother reads one of the nasty letters sent to her daughter, she becomes so weepingly upset that she collapses with a stroke and later dies.

Crude or Profane Language

The film’s dialogue is liberally peppered with more than 90 f-words, a dozen s-words and a handful each of “h—,” “b–ch,” “a–,” “whore,” “b–tard,” “slut,” “p-ss,” and multiple crude references to male and female anatomy. God and Jesus’ names are misused a half-dozen times or more.

We also see pages filled with written crudities that aren’t read aloud, including an entire sheet of paper covered in f-words.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Nearly everyone here smokes a pipe or cigarettes. That includes Rose and her daughter Nancy.

Many characters drink and get drunk in a pub. Rose is one of that number. She parties and swigs from a pint of beer. In fact, Rose’s reputation leads someone to suggest that she might meet kindred spirits while in jail —in the form of “drunks and queers.”

Rose brings a bottle of booze over to a table of Christian women who are playing cards with Edith.

Other Negative Elements

Rose notes that she was helping her grandfather burgle homes when she was Nancy’s age. Someone maliciously reports her to governmental child services just to cause her more pain during a difficult time.

Even though policewoman Gladys is trying to do what’s right, she’s spoken to dismissively by the other male constables and told to, essentially, stay in her lane. And when she continues, she’s suspended by her overbearing chief. (Ultimately, though, her efforts are rewarded.) In a similar fashion, Edith’s father rules his home with an iron fist and is quick to admonish Edith for not remembering her place.

When the newspapers praise and sympathize with Edith, she lets her “fame” go to her head, smiling and handing out copy of the paper. Someone writes “Die Slut” on Rose’s door. (She brushes past that harsh insult when her daughter sees it by telling the girl that it’s written in German.) There are several toilet humor gags in the dialogue mix, too, including someone passing foul gas.

While in court, Rose is harshly (and unnecessarily) exposed as a liar in front of her daughter. The young girl runs away in shame. While talking about personal hygiene, one local woman notes that her habits can sometimes alarm even her.


Olivia Coleman and Jessie Buckley play their roles brilliantly in this deliberately obscene comedy. That and a sweet statement about motherhood are the positive sides of Wicked Little Letters.

The not-so-positive aspect, however, is this movie’s central conceit that women should be set free from the constraints of men and morality to discover their natural, profanity-spewing womanhood. After all, women cussing in exceedingly crass terms is empowering and funny, this blue-humored period piece declares.

The laughing audience at the screening I saw seemed to agree. But here’s the thing: When we were exiting the theater en masse, I was surprised that the male and female crowd around me was spewing its own firehose blast of four-letter words. It was certainly far in excess of anything I’d normally heard in a public movie house setting.

Cause and effect anyone?

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Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.