Mr. Malcolm’s List arrives in cinemas with the biggest draw being the obvious, almost mandatory comparisons to Netflix’s Bridgerton. Like the Netflix hit show, Mr. Malcolm’s List is a historical romance, which utilises colour-blind casting, a choice that some will have an issue with but many will rightfully praise.
The problem with it is that while Mr. Malcolm’s List has many merits outside its approach to casting, but the film is completely carried by the undeniably wonderful cast. So while I’m keen on moving away from simply praising the cast alone, I find it difficult to find many other elements to highlight.
Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù plays the titular Mr. Malcolm and he indeed has a list, a harsh one. Julia Thistlewaite (hilarious Zawe Ashton) is only the most recent woman to be cordially dumped by Mr. Malcolm after she failed to meet the demands on his list for a potential wife.
Julia is of course enraged (wouldn’t you be?) and contacts her childhood friend Selina to come and visit her, so she can mould her into the perfect candidate for Mr. Malcolm, only for Selina to then humiliate Mr. Malcolm as he humiliated Julia.
I’ll give you three guesses as to what happens. Mr. Malcolm’s List, which is based on a novel by Suzanne Allain and a short film also directed by Jones, has very little originality to it. The narrative steadily moves towards the inevitable – it doesn’t even feel like a spoiler to say happy – ending. You could easily nip out in the middle to get a lovely cappuccino and not really miss a thing.
As expected from a British period film, the costumes and production design are appropriately lush, but something is amiss here. Perhaps the problem is with Jones’ directing; Mr. Malcolm’s List is stiff and lacks passion. A film about love should not feel this clinical and pre-meditated. When one falls in love, it tends to be head over heels, leaving you dizzy, it rarely happens slowly and steadily, over a cup of tea.
That being said, Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù and Freida Pinto have playful, gentle chemistry. The film’s biggest issue could have been trying to get the audience on Mr. Malcolm’s side, but Dìrísù does a wonderful job at grounding him as a character. Of course, the list is a horrendous thing to have, but it also not too far from our own dating reality.
Dìrísù is able to make the film and the entire need for such a list in the first place about his character’s inner anxieties and insecurities. His charm is matched by Pinto, who plays Selina tenderly and confidently. But the standout is Zawe Ashton, who gets the biggest laughs. Her character is easy to understand, her pain fuelling even her most ridiculous behaviours. She’s deeply relatable too, who hasn’t been humiliated by an ex?
But Mr. Malcolm’s List never manages to quite break free from its wildly traditional and unsurprising narrative. Bridgerton became Netflix’s most watched series thanks to the notorious steaminess, but nothing sets Mr. Malcolm’s List apart. Unfortunately, Jones’ film gets lost in the sea of other Regency-era romances, but it’s certainly lifted by the performances.
Mr Malcolm’s List will open in cinemas nationwide from Friday 26th August