Written By Darren
Rating 3.5 out of 5
Mr. Malcolm’s List is a wonderfully romantic and often hilarious period drama that benefits greatly from the performances of its talented cast.
Since the release of Bridgerton, there has been a resurgence in period romances set in 1800s England, proving the lasting power of these tales. Over the years, we have seen numerous adaptations of Jane Austen novels, and Mr. Malcolm’s List joins the long list of films in the genre that emulate Austen’s stories. However, this film has had a unique journey to the big screen. Originally self published by author Suzanne Allain in 2009, which she then adapted for the screen herself, the screenplay ended up being noticed by The Black List and given a live reading. Then, the script was pursued by director Emma Holly Jones, who turned it into a short film in 2018 and released it online, gaining massive viewership. Following the success of the short film, the novel was officially published in 2020 and set to be adapted for the big screen by Jones as director, with the majority of her cast reuniting from the short film. It’s truly a remarkable story, but after watching the film, it’s easy to see what Jones saw in this script when she discovered it back in 2015.
Set during 1800s England, the story revolves around the highly eligible Mr. Malcolm, the number one most eligible bachelor of London. However, Mr. Malcolm has a list of requirements that his future wife must meet. After being rejected by Mr. Malcolm, Julia recruits her best friend Selina to court Mr. Malcolm. With the help of her cousin Lord Cassidy, Julia and Cassidy help Selina navigate Mr. Malcolm’s requirements for a wife, while a deeper connection begins to develop between Selina and Mr. Malcolm. The script is full of romantic moments the fans of this genre expect, following the expected beats for this type of story. At the same time, Allain’s screenplay is full of laugh out loud moments that has the film bordering on a romantic comedy, which makes it a lot of fun to watch.
Being a period piece, the film spends a lot of its attention dedicated to the production design and costumes. The majority of the film is shot on location in Ireland, which lends to recreating 1800s England between the sweeping landscapes and the grand manors used for the sets. The costumes are great, which do the bulk of the heavy lifting for setting the stage for the time period of the film. Aiding the romance is Amelia Warner’s musical score, which plays on themes of classical composers while creating that sweeping romantic feeling throughout the film.
Though, it is the cast that makes the film worth your time. Frieda Pinto leads the cast as Selina, reprising her role from the short film, and she is absolutely delightful. Bringing an intelligence and warmth to the role, Pinto is the perfect lead for this type of romantic tale. She is headstrong, determined, but at the same time vulnerable and open to love. It’s a nice change for Pinto who has starred in a few Netflix duds recently, reminding audiences why they initially fell in love with her back in Slumdog Millionaire. Sope Dirisu stars as Mr. Malcolm, bringing an air of mystery and arrogance to the role, fulfilling exactly what the script requires for this Mr. Darcy-esque character. There is good chemistry between Pinto and Dirisu, helping to bring the central romance of the film to life.
But, it is the supporting performances that you will remember long after the credits begin to roll. Oliver Jackson-Cohen is a lot of fun as Lord Cassidy, capturing this bumbling yet well intentioned character with tons of energy and a levity that makes him great in the film’s comedic moments. Zawe Ashton is a scene stealer as Julia, Selina’s best friend who is making it her mission to break Mr. Malcolm’s heart. She brings a fire to the role that creates some of the best comedic moments of the film. She is often paired with Jackson-Cohen, and the two of them make an incredible duo that lights up the screen. Theo James is fine as Captain Henry Ossory, merely filling the role he is given without doing much to make it his own. And the ever delightful Ashley Park of Broadway’s Mean Girls and Netflix’s Emily in Paris is a comedic riot as Selina’s widowed cousin, Gertie Covington. The script calls for Gertie to feel completely out of place, like a bad SNL character in this period piece, but Park’s endearing and hyperactive personna works so well that even though her character sticks out like a sore thumb, it’s impossible not to have fun with her over the top performance.
While it is unlikely to go down as one of the best period romances in recent history, there is no reason why Mr. Malcolm’s List will not entertain fans of the genre. Combining an excellent screenplay bringing to life this deeply funny yet romantic story, and an excellent cast featuring great performances from Frieda Pinto, Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Zawe Ashton, Mr. Malcolm’s List is a truly entertaining romance that is sure to delight audiences.