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“Wicked Little Letters” reviewed

“This is more true than you’d think,” handwritten text informs us at the start of “Wicked Little Letters.” I looked it up, and they weren’t kidding. The movie involves tweaks and elisions to history, of course. But at least in its major outlines, the true story matches the film, in which a dour spinster named Edith Swan (Olivia Colman) and her raucous next-door neighbor Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley) tangle over a series of mysteriously obscene letters that started arriving at the homes of people in the English coast village of Littlehampton in 1920. As you may intuit, this movie belongs to a very particular subgenre summed up in one declaration: boy, small English towns are full of weirdos.

Directed by Thea Sharrock (who has an impressive two movies out this week — the other is “The Beautiful Game”) from a screenplay by the comedy writer Jonny Sweet, “Wicked Little Letters” is a darkly funny take on the tale, leaning a lot more toward the farce than the darkness. Edith, the oldest daughter in a large and very pious family, still lives with her parents (Timothy Spall and Gemma Jones). They sleep in three twin beds in the same room. They rarely go anywhere and are constantly scandalized.

Edith has been under her father’s thumb so long that any will she possessed has been wholly squashed out, which makes her exactly the ideal of feminine virtue for 1920s England. The men have returned from war — those who survived, anyhow — and retaken the jobs and roles women filled, relegating them back to the kitchen and domestic life. Edith, homely but docile, is everything a good Christian Englishwoman should be.