Review: 'Mr. Malcolm's List' a Charming, Effervescent Romance 'Bridgerton' Fans Will Enjoy

by Megan Kearns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 1, 2022

Review: 'Mr. Malcolm's List' a Charming, Effervescent Romance 'Bridgerton' Fans Will Enjoy

For many audiences, Regency Era-romances — including Jane Austen novels and their film adaptations, and the smash Netflix series "Bridgerton" — capture idealized notions of love and courtship. Delightful and charming, "Mr. Malcolm's List" is a breezy, effervescent romance.

Directed by Emma Holly Jones, "Mr. Malcolm's List" is based on the novel by Suzanne Allain, who also wrote the screenplay. In 2015, the Black List — a survey of the most popular screenplays not yet made into films — did a podcast script reading of Allain's screenplay, which Jones heard. She then made it into a short, prior to the feature-length film.

Set in 1818, Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) and Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) have been friends since childhood, attending boarding school together. Eligible bachelor Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dìrísù) spurns Julia, finding her lackluster on their first date at the opera. He yearns to discuss politics and art; she does not. Julia learns from her cousin, Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), that Mr. Malcolm possesses a lengthy list of qualifications for potential brides, from which she was disqualified.

Julia writes to Selina, who lives in the country with her parents, to visit her in London. Her pride wounded and worried about her reputation, Julia hatches a plan: She enlists Selina to woo Mr. Malcolm, posing as his ideal match and intending to unceremoniously dump him in order to get revenge.

Reminiscent of "Bridgerton," "Mr. Malcolm's List" focuses on "the season," when high-society suitors seek wedding matches. Refreshingly, the film contains a racially inclusive cast — always important to see, especially in a period piece.

In a restrained meet-cute, Selina attends a party to meet Mr. Malcolm and set her plan in motion, but they meet with her not knowing his identity. They instantly connect, debating the importance of hope — the first of many intellectual conversations they will share.

As they get to know each other over the course of the film, voracious reader Selina discusses political issues and dating with Mr. Malcolm, and each reveals the loneliness they feel.

Selina comments to Julia about the unattainable necessity to simultaneously embody all the traits Mr. Malcolm seeks in a wife. Despite the ruse, Selina almost entirely remains her authentic self. Close-ups of check marks notate every time Mr. Malcolm observes Selina exhibiting a trait on his list, including being attractive, well-read, graceful, candid, and musically talented.

While knowing what you want and aligning your values deeply matter in seeking a romantic partner, his absurdly long and daunting list remains reductionist and arguably sexist, treating women as objects. Thankfully, other characters in the film call out his myopic arrogance.

Yet, it remains clear Selina and Mr. Malcolm share glowing chemistry. Well matched, they complement and bring out the best in each other.

Dìrísù gives a fantastic, riveting performance as Mr. Malcolm; he's also outstanding in Remi Weekes's horror film "His House." A subtle performer, he imbues the character with gentle determination, depth, and poignancy. Freida Pinto is good as Selina. While independent and forthright, Pinto doesn't rely on clichés of a plucky, feisty heroine; she conveys depth, kindness, and inner fortitude.

In a role that could veer towards insufferable in the wrong hands, Zawe Ashton infuses her captivating character with the right balance of haughtiness and vulnerable self-reflection. Oliver Jackson-Cohen is affable and endearing as Cassidy.

The film boasts lavish sets and beautiful costumes. While not containing the confectionary palette pops of "Bridgerton" or Autumn de Wilde's "Emma," the production design and costumes remain gorgeous. According to the press notes, Jones intended to mimic paintings.

Inspired by the cinematography of Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon," Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility," and Joe Wright's "Pride and Prejudice," Tony Miller's enchanting cinematography utilizes natural light and candlelight.

Like many romance films, the couple we root for endures challenges: Meddling deception, a love triangle (with potential suitor Theo James), and misunderstandings. Evocative of a Jane Austen novel (especially "Pride and Prejudice"), "Mr. Malcolm's List" provides a commentary on romantic relationships, class, social interactions, and gender roles. In addition to romance, Selina and Julia's friendship — and the boundaries of friendship — refreshingly anchors the film.

Romance films remind us of the magic of hope and the excitement, wonder, and possibilities of love. Brimming with golden-lit, idyllic moments and scintillating banter, "Mr. Malcolm's List" provides a lovely escape.

"Mr. Malcolm's List" opens in theaters on Friday, July 1, 2022.