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Mr Malcolm’s List ★★★



Director: Emma Holly Jones

Cast: Freida Pinto, Zawe Ashton, Sophie Dirisu, Theo James, Oliver Jackson-Cohen

Released: August 26, 2022 (UK)

Mr Malcolm’s List continues the period drama renaissance as the latest film set during the Regency period. The film’s broad appeal will resonate with fans of Bridgerton with its diverse casting, sumptuous costumes and aesthetically pleasing surroundings combined with a beautiful cast and score. Set in 19th century England and based on the novel by Suzanne Allain, Mr Malcolm’s List embraces the Jane Austen fascination of marrying well and attending dazzling balls. The film touches upon political constructs and the artificial nature of choosing a life partner with a fastidious suitor such as Mr Malcolm, played by a charismatic Sophie Dirisu. It’s an amusing, fun, easy-to-absorb period film with good chemistry amongst its charming cast.

Mr Malcolm’s List captures that sense of auditioning to be a bride. The film has scenes of finishing schools, comments about being left on the shelf after four seasons on the dinner and dance circuit, and is reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice and other films within that genre. There is also a Cinderella type of quality to the film as Mr Malcolm harshly rejects his dates if their qualities are not to his satisfaction to tick off a ‘list’. Mr Malcolm is hence described as arrogant and conceited on many an occasion for daring to be so choosy à la Mr Darcy.

Despite the historical context, there will be a modern-day resonance to Mr Malcolm’s decision tree akin to swiping on today’s dating apps. There is equally that comparison to the disposable nature of today’s dating culture, which encourages the same degree of judgemental behaviour. As Mr Malcolm’s List is discovered by a rejected date who embarks on revenge, an exciting comedy of wits ensues. The subsequent dynamics thus resemble the witty repartee and word volleys apparent within Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Whilst the plotting may resemble other period films,  a sense of déjà vu is avoided given that there is a reduced set of Machiavellian machinations in Mr Malcolm’s List compared to Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which is set in 18th century France.

The premise may be simple in nature with its cute and romantic construct. However, the charm of the characters’ interaction and comedic moments breathe new life into a well-worn storyline. These elements are assisted by the cinematography, which is quite frankly superb, with immersive camera panning in the midst of formal dances with flowing dresses and a sweeping score designed to dazzle audiences and entice them into the film’s romantic poetry. It is a beautifully shot film, without seeming too contrived, with mesmerising moonlit shots within grounds that would be perfect for many current Instagram photo shoots.

Despite its seemingly frothy nature, it does veer into taboo topics for that era. With Mr Malcolm being a discerning suitor, he is unafraid to introduce matters of politics on his dates, which contradicts one of those widely held dating views of avoiding politics. The gendered argument is also referenced, which adds a fresh dimension to the period drama elements. The film acknowledges that an invitation to discuss politics on a date does not ignore the existing implicit hurdles, as expectations remain that women should not appear more intelligent than their would-be beaus.

The film is fascinating to watch as many of its formal, social rituals from the Regency period continue to this day. Furthermore, the topics discussed during Mr Malcolm’s dates create further interest and intrigue as they bring issues of societal status and class inequalities to the fore. Interestingly, the concept of nobility is not expressly discussed despite the apparent degrees of affluence.

Within Mr Malcom’s circle, the virtuous Selina, played by Freida Pinto, and the beguiling Julia, played by Zawe Ashton, are childhood friends embroiled in the scheming against Mr Malcolm. However, their strong female friendship is emphasised and serves as an example of class discrepancies. Selina lives in the countryside as the daughter of a clergyman and is described as ‘unfashionable’. Julia, on the other hand, fits comfortably within the affluent societies in London.

Mr Malcolm’s List excels in creating amiable and intriguing characters whose pathways intertwine and encircle each other like a well-choreographed dance within London. The camera work also invites us to swoon and fall in love with their antics. It is assisted by the set’s beautiful aesthetics, including stunning panoramic views of aristocratic estates. Emma Holly Jones has expertly directed the cast to produce such a pleasing period film which, combined with the captivating score, will entice non-rom-com fans. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue seems stilted occasionally, which may be due to the literary device involved with the substance of the contents of the ‘list’ and feels too long at moments. However, to Jones’ credit, the score and the pretty costume design will draw audiences into Mr Malcolm’s fun and mesmerising world of escapism.

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