Olivia Colman: Women using swear words should not be shocking

Olivia Colman
Colman as Edith Swan in her new film Wicked Little Letters - LANDMARK MEDIA
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Women using swear words should not be shocking, according to Olivia Colman, who said a gender double standard exists when it comes to bad language.

Colman’s latest film, Wicked Little Letters, is the true story of a 1920s scandal in which the seaside town of Littlehampton is rocked by a series of poison pen letters.

The letters were filled with swearing and obscene references. The two suspects in the case were women – neighbours Edith Swan and Rose Gooding, played in the film by Colman and Jessie Buckley.

The case of the “Littlehampton libels” made national headlines, with many observers – and the judge in one of the resulting court cases – arguing that a “respectable” woman would not swear. Colman said that little has changed today.

Colman stars as one of two women accused of writing poison pen letters
Colman stars as one of two women accused of writing poison pen letters - LANDMARK MEDIA

“The women are looked at and judged and, unfortunately, that still exists,” the actress told Radio Times.

“If a woman swears, people act shocked. F— off! Women are human – funny, filthy, loving, caring – just like men.”

When Edith Swan appeared in court in 1923 accused of writing the letters, the judge in the case directed the jury to “consider whether it was conceivable that she could have written this document” as her demeanour was “that of a respectable, clean-mouthed woman”.

The film, which opens later this month, has been given a 15 age rating due to its “very strong language”.

Jessie Buckley plays Rose Gooding, Colman's co-accused
Jessie Buckley plays Rose Gooding, Colman's character's co-accused - LANDMARK MEDIA

Colman said that certain lines of dialogue were very funny to say. “They had to cut around us laughing a lot. ‘F— you in the nose holes’ was a favourite,” she recalled.

Wicked Little Letters is unusual in having two female leads. Asked if we are now living in a new era for female characters in film, Colman said: “There have been many fantastic, female-centric films which have moved me.

“And some of the biggest-grossing films – Barbie, Bridesmaids, Thelma and Louise – are led by women.

“People say men get paid more because they get more bums on seats. That’s a lie! It can be proved in the box office. I don’t know why we’re still having to discuss it.”

Barbie was the highest-grossing film of 2023, taking $1.4 billion worldwide.

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