Wicked Little Letters parents guide

Wicked Little Letters Parent Guide

The dialogue is quick and witty, when it's not overoaded with high levels of profanity.

Overall C-

Theaters: A spate of obscene poison pen letters shake up a quiet English seaside town and put a woman at risk of imprisonment.

Release date April 12, 2024

Violence B-
Sexual Content C-
Profanity D-
Substance Use C

Why is Wicked Little Letters rated R? The MPAA rated Wicked Little Letters R for language throughout and sexual material

Run Time: 100 minutes

Parent Movie Review

It’s the 1920s and middle-aged spinster Edith Swan lives a quiet life in the English coastal town of Littlehampton. Devout and dutiful, Edith (Olivia Colman) builds her days around Bible study, helping her parents (Timothy Spall and Gemma Jones), and her church women’s group. That placid existence is destroyed when she starts receiving obscene anonymous letters. Once the Swan family finally go to the police, the prime suspect is obvious.

Rose Gooding (Jesse Buckley) has recently moved in next door to the Swans. A war widow with a young daughter (Alisha Weir), Rose is outspoken, unconventional, and loud. She refuses to follow social strictures that insist women be modest, humble, and submissive. Rose drinks, smokes, curses with gusto, carouses at the pub and flatly refuses to be subservient to men.

When more letters arrive, the police arrest Rose, despite a shocking lack of evidence. Woman Police Officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) is the only member of the force with any doubts about Rose’s guilt. Unfortunately, Officer Moss’s gender restricts her duties, and she is told to stay out of the investigation. That’s not enough to stop the intrepid cop, and as she starts asking questions, surprising truths come to the fore - but it’s not clear if the truth will be enough to set Rose free…

Wicked Little Letters is a comedy that feels like a tragedy. The film’s comic timing is exemplary and the script is witty and quick (when it’s not overloaded with profanity). The show moves along briskly, with sparkle and verve and no lags in pacing. (If only all comedies could manage the pacing so well.) Despite all the laughs, the heart of the film is tragic – a condemnation of a society that demands the submission and repression of women, and, on a narrower scale, a damning look at the misogyny that catalyzes the actions of the perpetrator. Female viewers will cringe when female characters are told to remember “their place” and will identify with Gladys as she screams silently in the stairwell after being patronized, demeaned, and shoved aside by a senior officer. The fact that this movie is based on a true story only deepens the appalling nature of the events.

The comic and dramatic success of the film rests on the shoulders of its gifted cast. Olivia Colman owns the film with her nuanced portrayal of Edith, shifting from piety to envy; from resignation to rage. Jessie Buckley brings her trademark energy to her role, but Rose’s fear is visible behind her bravado. Anjana Vasan gives Gladys believable grit and Timothy Spall is also convincing as the despotic Mr. Swan.

The biggest disappointment here is that Wicked Little Letters is also wickedly profane. It’s not surprising that a movie about obscene letters would feature lots of sexual language but the script doesn’t stop there, littering the movie’s dialogue with over ninety f-bombs and plenty of other profanity. As a family movie critic I find this intensely frustrating because the language makes it impossible for me to recommend this film, despite its fine performances and insightful look at past prejudices and their contemporary echoes.

Directed by Thea Sharrock. Starring Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan. Running time: 100 minutes. Theatrical release April 12, 2024. Updated

Wicked Little Letters
Rating & Content Info

Why is Wicked Little Letters rated R? Wicked Little Letters is rated R by the MPAA for language throughout and sexual material

Violence: A man swings a punch and is put in a chokehold. A woman hits another woman in the face with a shovel. A woman headbutts a man. A woman is grabbed but puts her attacker in a chokehold. An angry man throws a glass on the floor. A woman collapses and later dies off screen.
Sexual Content: Neighbors hear a man and woman are heard having sex. A child’s illegitimacy is a plot point. A woman pulls her skirt up, briefly exposing her buttocks in a non-sexual situation.
Profanity: Profanity comes at such a rate in this film that it’s hard to count, especially if multiple people are cursing at once. At minimum, the script contains 91 sexual expletives, seven scatological curses, 13 terms of deity, and a minor profanity. There are frequent crude anatomical terms, including slang terms for male and female genitals. A vulgar term for oral sex is used.
Alcohol / Drug Use:   Adults frequently consume alcohol and are seen as intoxicated. Adults smoke cigarettes. A woman is angry when she catches her child smoking a cigarette.

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Wicked Little Letters Parents' Guide

This movie is based on a true story that took place in Littlehampton in 1920. You can learn more about the real events below.

History Extra: Wicked Little Letters: the true story of Edith Swan, Rose Gooding and the Littlehampton Libels

Den of Geek: It’s Harder to Sympathise with Wicked Little Letters’ True Story

History vs Hollywood: How Accurate Is “Wicked Little Letters”? The True Story Vs the Film


Loved this movie? Try these books…

This historical episode was dissected in detail by Emily Cockayne in her book Penning Poison: A History of Anonymous Letters. The tale has also been told by Christopher Hilliard in The Littlehampton Libels: A Miscarriage of Justice and a Mystery about Words in 1920s England. For a fictional spin on poison pen letters you can try Agatha Christie’s whodunnit, The Moving Finger.

Home Video

Related home video titles:

For a much cleaner option that deals with issues of misogyny and patriarchy, we recommend Barbie, one of our favorite films of 2023.

Rebelling against the misogyny that characterizes the social life of her high school, a girl self-publishes a magazine in Moxie.

Olivia Colman plays another daughter with a difficult relationship in The Father, which costars Anthony Hopkins.