Mr. Malcolm’s List Synopsis: When she fails to meet an item on his list of requirements for a bride, Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) is jilted by London’s most eligible bachelor, Mr. Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù). Feeling humiliated and determined to exact revenge, she convinces her friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) to play the role of his ideal match. Soon, Mr. Malcolm wonders whether he’s found the perfect woman…or the perfect hoax. Based on a 2009 novel and 2019 short film.
In 1800s London, the scrupulous bachelor Mr. Malcolm lives with an air of mystery. Despite his illustrious status, Malcolm continues abandoning countless romantic courtships as he searches for someone who meets his list of distinguished qualifications. His controversial list soon aspires a scorned heiress to get revenge via her working-class friend in the period romantic comedy Mr. Malcolm’s List.
The posh costumes and well-tempered nature of period films can often feel like an acquired cinematic taste. Writing some of these features off as awards bait or half-baked Jane Austin rip-offs can be easy for some viewers at first glance. However, the inspired period iterations exemplify the fascinating and surprisingly relevant human facets buried beneath an era defined by chivalry and traditional customs.
Mr. Malcolm’s List fits that billing remarkably well. The film imbues vitality into a familiar tale of romantic complications, showcasing a crowdpleasing romantic comedy drawn with poise and craft.
Under the guidance of director Emma Holly Jones and screenwriter Suzanne Allain in their feature-length debuts, Mr. Malcolm’s List discovers a magnetic voice amongst its crowded subgenre. The duo balances each other’s strengths as a well-matched team – with Jones’ evocative yet subdued imagery serving as the perfect canvas for Allain’s biting screenplay. Allain’s set-up certainly leans towards familiar romantic comedy shenanigans, and while the film packs a few amusing moments of pratfall hijinks, much of its comedic strengths rest on Allain’s deft comedic touch.
Allain has a blast digging into the character’s socialite setting, spinning a complex web of gossip and rumors that eventually engulfs the character’s verging relationships. Several gags pointed at the nonsensical whims of elites and the era’s rigid social/gender standards conjure hearty laughs while also pointedly placing the period under a reflective microscope. I give Allain credit for being able to make a socially-conscious comedy that never takes itself too seriously.
Mr. Malcolm’s List still possesses a sizable heart underneath its observational lens. Jones and Allain repurpose familiar romantic comedy mechanics in their own inspired light, gradually allowing the character’s emotional ties to boil inside the pressure cooker of their composed setting. The patient character-building extracts more meaningful connections than your typical onscreen romance as the film forgoes the cliche speeches and maudlin melodrama that’s often denied the subgenre. Even if viewers eventually see where the relationships are going, Jones and Allain ensure authentic character evolutions at every turn.
The charismatic cast helps in elevating the familiar narrative proceedings. Frieda Pinto extracts natural personability and dramatic gravitas as the friend thrust into an unlikely romance with an enigmatic elite. She also shares terrific chemistry with Sope Dirisu, who brings Malcolm to life through his debonair presence and reserved disposition. Additionally, Zawe Ashton, Oliver Jackson Cohen, and Theo James embed bright comedic energy as they wrap themselves into the unlikely romance.
The vibrant humanity and astute comedic energy illuminating under the surface of Mr. Malcolm’s List creates a refreshing breath of fresh air for audiences. Here is a film that adeptly plays to its strengths while enriching its time-honored tenants. I hope audiences give the film a chance amidst the busy summer movie season.
Mr. Malcolm’s List is now playing in theaters.
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