David at the movies: Poison-pen letters? More like dirty postcards!




This is another of those small British movies that leaves a large impression, like 2022’s Living. Based on a true story from the 1920s, director Thea Sharrock takes us back to the seaside town of Littlehampton in Sussex (more photogenic Arundel is used for the setting). Escalatingly vicious poison pen letters are  being sent to local inhabitants, starting with Edith Swan (Olivia Colman), a middle-aged spinster still living with her elderly mum and dad (Gemma Jones and Timothy Spall). The prime suspect is their next-door neighbour Rose (Jessie Buckley), a potty-mouthed Irish immigrant with whom the Swans have had many altercations. A police investigation uncovers the truth, although most viewers will get there before they do.

The letters are not just Wicked, they are Filthy, and much of the film’s humour derives from the inept smuttiness of their phrasing. Take out the dirty-postcard humour (please don’t!) and this movie would fit seamlessly into the grand comedy tradition of the Ealing Studios output of the 1940s and 50s (The Lavender Hill Mob et al). Cinematography and set design beautifully recapture the period. The script and the performances are gloriously OTT, close to pantomime level. It’s all in the worst possible taste – and all the better for it!

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