by Sarah Cook
Period dramas are certainly in their heyday once more, Thanks to the Netflix sexy series Bridgerton, everyone is clamouring over themselves to make and watch shows set in the Regency era. For better or for worse, I might add. Certainly, for every Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Emma (2020) which are both a glorious adaptations, there is a ghastly Persuasion (2022,)
So, where does latest outing Mr Malcolm’s List fall? Well, somewhere nicely in the middle.
Based on a novel by Suzanne Allain (who also writes the screenplay,) Mr Malcolm’s List follows Julia Thistlewaite, a young society woman who is rejected by the epitomes Mr Malcolm. His reasoning is that Julia doesn’t meet the standards he has set for future brides – all written down on an infamous list. When Julia is spurned and lately scorned by society, she enlists childhood friend Selina to help enact revenge of Mr Malcolm. But, obviously, it all goes awry with a collection of vibrant characters and comical circumstances.
Newcomer Emily Holly Jones directs a pleasant enough movie that is sure to please fans of period romps. The sets and sceneries are nice, the costumes are divine, and there is a jovial score that will leave you feeling lighter and brighter.
There is enough comedy in the script and plot to keep you smiling. It is delivered brilliantly by the wonderous cast. This latest entry in colourblind casting happily puts a diverse mix of actors front and centre. Sope Dirisu is a formidable and dashing lead as the titular Mr Malcolm. Though stoic at first, as he gradually falls in love with Selina, Dirisu unravels his kind nature gently and with great effect. He is utterly watchable and as he strides across ballrooms and charges on horses, he’ll have most people swooning.
Zawe Ashton is invaluable as Julia – a woman so tightly wound (thanks to her fourth season trying to find an eligible mate) – that she quickly unravels at the slightest inconvenience. Ashton is extremely funny but what’s more, she makes Julia likeable. It’s hard to do when in other stories, Julia would be the villainous socialite trying to ensnare Selina into her wicked deeds. Thanks to Ashton’s talents, she is wonderous understandable.
However, Oliver Jackson-Cohen steals the show here as Julia’s foppish and comical cousin Cassidy. How refreshing it is to see Jackson-Cohen take a more light-hearted turn following on from his successes in The Haunting of Hill House, Bly Manor, and The Invisible Man. As Cassidy, a man who is unwillingly thrown into Julia’s scheming, Jackson-Cohen delights in little minute moments such as stuffing his face with macaroons or being utterly afraid of horses that make his character stand out. Plus, he gets to wear the most extravagant coats.
There are a few bum notes on the list. After the scheme is revealed, the film struggles to find its footing again and provides an ending that is far too long. Freida Pinto, whose character is level-headed, also seems at odds with the other vibrant cast. She’s fine but her stilted deliveries feel out of place in this fast folly.
For a directorial debut, Mr Malcolm’s List is certainly a charming movie. A film you should put on your watch list – but maybe somewhere in the middle.
Mr Malcolm’s List is out in cinemas now!