Regency era romance fans, we are being fed well. Shondaland’s Bridgerton series has captured the hearts and titillated the senses of viewers everywhere, which has had the benefit of getting similar projects greenlit. We have an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion coming to Netflix on July 15, and — at long last — we are finally seeing the feature length adaptation of Mr. Malcolm’s List.
A short film version of Mr. Malcolm’s List was released in 2018 before Bridgerton strutted on the scene. Featuring color blind casting, a scandalizing scenario, and brilliant comedic timing, the short became an instant success. That coupled with Bridgerton‘s massive popularity might have paved the way for the team to get the funding needed to expand upon the story. The wait has been worth it, even if the plot trajectory is deliciously predictable.
The set-up will feel familiar to those who’ve seen the short. In Mr. Malcolm’s List, we are introduced to Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton), who is in dire need of a husband. Entering her umpteenth season, many are questioning her value in polite society. Matters are made worse after she is observed to bore Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dirisu) at a public function with all the Ton bearing witness.
Considered the prime bachelor of the season, this rejection by him leads to excruciating public humiliation for Julia. Revenge takes root in the young woman’s soul when she learns from her cousin, Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), that Mr. Malcolm has a list of requirements for his future bride (not all that different from what we do on dating profiles today). She is nowhere near what he desires, and this truth starts the foundation of what is sure to be a plan doomed for failure of some kind.
After her childhood friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) sends her a letter post-humiliation, an idea is hatched by Julia. Selina is a relatively attractive woman, with no prospects, no lineage of worth, and – ultimately – a nobody. She is the perfect candidate to mold into Mr. Malcolm’s perfect woman before snatching it all away.
With this plan in mind, Julia beckons her friend to come visit and, as is wont to occur with these types of makeover romance comedy scenarios, this deceitful song and dance pulls everyone into its web.
Directed by Emily Holly Jones and written by Suzanne Allain as an adaptation of her original novel, Mr. Malcolm’s List is a delightful blend of modern romantic comedy and Jane Austen-esque nostalgia. The story itself is predictable in some ways.
The perpetual debate in these scenarios toys with the question of whether the main characters will end up with each other. Reader: they generally do. That said, that doesn’t take away from the journey we see between the characters onscreen as we wait for the inevitable to happen.
Reprising their roles from the original short are Freida Pinto, Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, Oliver Jackson Cohen, Divian Ladwa, and Sianad Gregory. Newcomers to the universe of Mr. Malcolm’s List consist of Zawe Ashton (taking over the role of Julia Thistlewaite from Gemma Chan), Ashley Park, and Theo James. Overall, the cast is firing on all cylinders. No one particularly steals the spotlight, but each character does get a chance to shine respectfully.
Pinto and Dìrísù have natural unforced chemistry. The build-up of their connection resonates offscreen as they both navigate the gradual peculiarities of courtship. Both are verbal partners in the game of wit, and they shine. Even when there is conflict, and there is conflict because there must be stakes, there is a subtlety to how both handle the changing dynamics that is appreciated.
Ashton brings an entirely different vibe to Thistlewaite, with the character’s self-involvement apparent to everyone but Selina. This isn’t a bad note, mind you. It helps to contrast the two friends as the story progresses, and you can’t help but wonder when Selina will open her eyes to Julia’s character deficits.
Ashton plays the obliviousness of Julia quite well, which is further emphasized by the character’s own prospective romantic partner portrayed by Theo James. While his character seems less fleshed out, James does try to assert his presence in the mix. He’s just not particularly memorable.
Bringing in the more comedic moments are both Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Ashley Park, who portray family members of our leading ladies. Jackson Cohen has such a quiet nervous energy about him in Mr. Malcolm’s List.
It makes the witty delivery of some of his character’s remarks land in a way that reels you in. In contrast, Park has fully embraced the sheer manic ridiculousness of Selina’s cousin. While dynamic onscreen, the character is so over-the-top that it highlights why the Ton might look at a woman of her breeding as cringey. A good way to reinforce that ideology.
Aside from some standard slower than necessary pacing in the middle, Mr. Malcolm’s List is everything that a rom-com fan would want. There’s a fresh, modernity to the story’s execution that breathes a necessary life to the familiar. The cast, overall, is top-notch and fully committed, with mostly everyone delivering subtle, convincing performances.
Freida Pinto and Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù may be the central focus, but that doesn’t mean others get neglected. The color-blind casting is, as has been the case for a while now, lovely and needs to be the standard. I’ll die on that hill. Overall, a nice watch.
MR. MALCOLM’S LIST REVIEW SCORE: 8.5 OUT OF 10
Bleecker Street will release Mr. Malcolm’s List in theaters on July 1, 2022. The movie is rated PG for some smoking and mild language.