Wicked Little Letters stars heavy-hitting British talent, including Olivia Colman, Jesse Buckley and Timothy Spall – and profanity. Cussing – copious, inventive, glorious – is not just the trigger of events in the movie but its very soul.

Thea Sharrock’s 2023 production can be rented from BookMyShow Stream, Apple TV+, Prime Video, YouTube Movies and Google Play. Wicked Little Letters is a comic version of Henri Georges-Clouzot’s Le Corbeau (1943), in which anonymous mail causes havoc in a village. In Sharrock’s film, set in 1920 and inspired by an actual incident, the target of salty missives is a single person rather than the entire town: the deeply devout and unmarried Edith (Colman).

For weeks, explicit letters have been arriving at Edith’s doorstep, accusing her of ungodly acts and worse. The immediate suspect is her freethinking neighbour Rose (Buckley). Rose not only has a daughter without a husband in sight but also a Black lover. Rose actively practises invective as much as Edith despises it.

The scandal get serious enough for the police to get involved. Indian-origin constable Gladys (Anjana Vasan) finds herself in a situation not unlike Rose. Treated with contempt because of her race and gender, this outlier nevertheless sets out to unearth the identity of the nasty letter writer.

Sharrock’s comedy rests on a cheerfully irreverent script by Jonny Sweet and excellent performances. Colman is especially terrific in her articulation of horror at the lurid acts described in the letters. Edith’s self-pity is cloying to everybody but her: by my suffering, do I not move closer to Heaven, she sniffles.

Edith’s hypocrisy – a hallmark of the overtly religious – is out in the open when Rose is officially accused of being the culprit. The movie cleverly reflects its larger context – the suffragette movement in England – through its exploration of the biases encountered by women who dare to live differently. As much as the right to vote, swearing is treated as a political act – the ability to slice through politesse and say what needs to be or ought to be said, however unpleasant it sounds.

It helps to have the subtitles on while watching Wicked Little Letters. Crisp, efficient and hugely entertaining, the 100-minute movie enriches the vocabulary if nothing else, giving us a new set of insults to deploy while also reminding us of the liberating power of language.

Wicked Little Letters (2023).