Mr. Malcolm’s List2022.
Directed by Emma Holly Jones.
With Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, Freida Pinto, Zawe Ashton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Theo James, Naoko Mori and Ashley Park.
In 1800s London high society, an eligible bachelor with a list of demands for his future bride seems set for a rude awakening when a woman he has rejected begins plotting to embarrass him.
It’s a fascinating time for period drama. Long perceived as the avatar of a kind of dusty laziness in the British film industry, he is experiencing a kind of revival. The Netflix giant Bridgerton is the most obvious and visible example, but the Apple+ series Dickinson and Hulu’s Great offer other twists on the story via the small screen, with The favourite and Love friendship among films changing the direction of the genre. It is in this landscape, and particularly the landscape of Bridgertonof Regency London, that the delightfully airy new drama Mr. Malcolm’s List emerges.
Just like Armando Iannucci’s wonderful interpretation of Dickens in The personal story of David Copperfield, director Emma Holly Jones introduces freshness to the cast as well as the content, taking a colorblind approach. The titular Mr. Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) is a highly eligible bachelor, who is notoriously picky about whom he wishes to marry and, early in the film, rejects Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) in a way that publicly embarrasses him. She learns from her cousin Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) – a friend of Malcolm’s – that he has a list of requirements for a bride, which she has failed to meet. Furious, Julia brings her friend Selina (Freida Pinto) to London and attempts to have her become Malcolm’s ideal wife for a future rug draw.
There is nothing inherently revolutionary in Mr. Malcolm’s List and, certainly, you will be able to fairly reliably guess how the plot unfolds after reading that last paragraph. But, a bit like Bridgerton, there’s an energy and a spirit to the film that carries him through. It doesn’t matter that he ticks off cliches like he has his own list because there’s such brilliance to the screenplay – written by Suzanne Allain, adapting her self-published 2020 novel – and a viscous pace the way the cast perform sharp dialogue. Ashton, in particular, relishes the rat-a-tat witticisms she’s gifted with as Julia and is able to draw out every laugh imaginable, even turning her delivery of the word “pencil” into a delicious punchline.
Dìrísù, who was so remarkable in the series Sky London Gangs, has more of a straight man role and finds real chemistry with the equally serious Pinto. Their sincerity and genuine chemistry provide a fundamental counterpoint to the more outlandish work of Ashton and Jackson-Cohen, which gives maximum fop to his portrayal of a mostly ignorant posh man. Dìrísù and Pinto manage to portray genuine yearning and a palpable scuffle against the eccentricities of high society, culminating in a very Regency alternative to the romcom staple of the “last minute airport chase” and one of the monologues cinema’s most memorable recent romances.
One of the real joys of the cast is also Theo James, who arrives halfway through as the dashing military man familiar to Malcolm. Initially introduced as another potential suitor for Selina, he quickly forms an extremely pleasant adversarial chemistry with Ashton’s Julia. Their fight is a bitter delight and complements the more overtly romantic sequences between Dìrísù and Pinto nicely.
As with all movies of this ilk, it’s stunning to watch, with absolutely flawless costumes and sets, aided by Amelia Warner’s lush score. In a dark and gritty world of cinema, there’s something undeniably enjoyable about Mr. Malcolm’s List and how director Jones immerses viewers in an escapist vision of Regency England where historical accuracy is far behind fun and silliness on the list of priorities. It’s a world in which the worst thing that can happen to you is the embarrassing arrival of a somewhat rude cousin – kudos to Ashley Park, who steals the scene.
Mr. Malcolm’s List is one hell of a calling card for Jones as a first-time director and fits right into the zeitgeisty trend for gleefully silly antics. Its diverse cast delivers uniformly solid performances and there’s real certainty of tone throughout that carries its rather generic plot in a way that never gets boring. In a way, its lack of originality on the story front is its superpower, providing a reliable scaffolding upon which actors and filmmakers can build something crisp, insightful, and as perfectly sparkling as a fancy cappuccino. If this movie was a contender, I would consider myself completely courted.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff, and puns.