REVIEW: ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ is Everything I Want from Regency Romances

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Mr. Malcolm's List - But Why Tho

I love period romances, especially if it’s 19th century England and that’s all thanks to Jane Austen. That said, finding stories that have the slow build, unlikely romance, and yearning tension that matches Austen’s stories are far and few between. So when I went into Mr. Malcolm’s List I had hopes for it on the cast alone, but they weren’t too high. But 10 minutes in, I was in love.

Directed by Emma Holly Jones and written by Suzanne Allain (based on the novel of the same name from Allai), Mr. Malcolm’s List stars Freida Pinto, Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ashley Park, with Zawe Ashton, and Theo James. Taking place in Regency England but with the core fit for a modern romantic comedy, Mr. Malcolm’s List manages to blend the period film with a trajectory that embraces themes we’ve seen before. In the film, Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) becomes the jilted almost-bride (well, almost in her mind) of London’s most eligible bachelor, Mr. Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù). The reason for not getting a proposal and also being publically humiliated about it all? She didn’t hit every item on the bachelor’s list of requirements for a bride.

Feeling humiliated and determined to exact revenge, she convinces her friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) to play the role of his ideal match. A strong-willed woman without anything notable about her lineage and absolutely no interest in marriage, Selina is the perfect way to get into Mr. Malcolm’s house by ticking off each and every item on his list, only to leave him alone. However, soon, Mr. Malcolm wonders whether he’s found the perfect woman.

Immediately, the premise for Mr. Malcolm’s List is completely my jam and one of my favorite rom-com plots: fake a romance by pretending to be the perfect match only to let the guy go – only instead of doing that the two leads fall in love. I can thank Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey to thank for that. Here though, unlike with how the bits are executed in comedic ways, we see the unraveling and mutual respect and love blossom in a way that only a period romance can do.

The blending of these elements works and the way the embers of love are stoked throughout the film hits an intensity and rumbling that creates the tension and the atmosphere that works with every romantic pairing in the film. While it would easy to cast aside the characters that introduce us to the main couple, Selina and Mr. Malcom, the film keeps them all center. Because of this, there is a sense of completeness and closure to every story presented in the film, which I’m thankful for given the caliber of performances.

However, the fact that Mr. Malcolm’s List is a quintessential rom-com scheme is also what takes out some of the dramatic tension of the “will-they-or-won’t-they” variety. We know where this plot is going the moment it’s laid out for us and while that tempers the tension and drama, the film doesn’t lose it completely. Due in large part to its leads.

Every actor is phenomenal but Pinto and Dìrísù are perfect. The reluctant love building and the wit between them is a chemistry that works both when they speak and when they don’t. The little movements and facial expressions each actor does in the other’s presence expertly capture the cadence of their courtship and push them closer to each other even when there is conflict.

With a cast of such beautiful people, it’s great to see a crew that understands how to light their brown actors even in dark scenes. This may seem like a simple task, “make sure your actor looks good and can be seen” but directors, particularly those without brown skin themselves, don’t always know how to choose atmospheric lighting that works for every actor – the most recent example of which is Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Mr. Malcolm’s List is superb. Even with its minor hiccups in pacing throughout the middle of the film, it manages to capture love and tenacity in equal measure. Give me more Frieda Pinto in period films, because her thriving is what she’s deserved since her debut, and her ability to hold an audience and lead a film remains unmatched here.

Mr. Malcolm’s List is available exclusively in theaters July 1, 2022.


Mr. Malcolm's List
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Mr. Malcolm’s List is superb. Even with its minor hiccups in pacing throughout the middle of the film, it manages to capture love and tenacity in equal measure. Give me more Frieda Pinto in period films, because her thriving is what she’s deserved since her debut, and her ability to hold an audience and lead a film remains unmatched here.

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