Cresting upon the popularity of British costume dramas with a diverse cast (à la Netflix’s runaway hit series Bridgerton), Mr. Malcolm’s List is a pleasant and light romance starring Freida Pinto, Zawe Ashton, Sope Dirisu, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Theo James.
The film first garnered buzz as a short film in 2019 with Gemma Chan as one of the leads. The feature length version, which will be in theatres July 1, has Ashton replacing Chan as Julia Thistlewaite, a slightly shallow, vain, and headstrong lady who is romantically rejected by the handsome but highly discerning Jeremy Malcolm (Dirisu). It is revealed that Malcolm is looking to marry a woman who fulfills a long list of qualifications, hence the titular list. To retaliate, Julia ropes in her longsuffering cousin Lord Cassidy (Jackson-Cohen) with a scheme to entrap Malcolm with the contrived “perfect” woman in the form of Julia’s childhood friend, Selina Dalton (Pinto).
The story is well-trodden, but the rom-com clichés and plot predictability are elevated by a seasoned and committed cast. It really is great to see so many people of colour in what is traditionally perceived as an all-White space and time (i.e. 17th century England). Especially notable is Ashton’s comedic turn and choice line readings as the antagonistic but sympathetic Julia — a woman of privilege, vivacity, and beauty who makes some silly to downright shady choices but is still capable of feel guilty about them and desires to do the right thing in the end. Plus, her voice is syrupy, snooty, and such fun.
Everyone else is perfectly charming and nicely garbed in the costumes and settings that a standard English period drama dictates. However, Pinto and Dirisu do not have that simmering attraction that I’ve been conditioned to expect from Austen-inspired romances; their particular chemistry is more in line with two reasonable, intelligent, attractive characters who fall in love sensibly. Jeremy and Selina’s relationship is pretty uninteresting without the machinations of Julia and the competition of Captain Henry Ossory (James) to spice things up later. When Jeremy and Selina finally admit their feelings to each other, it is rather anticlimactic and rote. Even the movie’s familiar ideas about love, status, and personality clashes fall short of more well-known takes via Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Malcolm is unfortunately no Mr. Darcy although they share many similar traits.
Ratings (out of 5):
Overall Average: 3.4