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VOD Review: Mr. Malcolm’s List

August 2, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Mr. Malcolm’s List is a romantic dramedy set in the 1800s that mainly serves as a sincere tribute to Jane Austen (I would say “fan fiction,” but that perhaps has a more negative connotation than what I wish to convey here), offering a fairly enjoyable entry into the oeuvre of lighthearted period pieces.

Filmed in Ireland, standing in for England in 1818, the film centres around the romantic exploits of Jeremiah Malcolm (Sope Dirisu), a dashing figure who is highly sought after but refuses to settle. Mr. Malcolm is the most eligible bachelor in London at the time, mainly due to his high standards in choosing a bride.

Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) is perpetually single, and has yet to find (and keep) the right suitor. When she faces the humiliation of being publicly rejected by him following a disastrous trip to the opera, she decides to get revenge.

Julia finds out through her cousin, Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), that Mr. Malcolm keeps a list of what he is looking for in a woman, including things like being able to hold an intelligent conversation and possessing musical or artistic abilities. So she calls upon her childhood friend Selina Dalton (Frieda Pinto) to pose as the perfect prospect, working from his own list. The plan is for her to give him a taste of his own medicine by rejecting him at the last minute, but Julia’s scheme goes astray when Mr. Malcolm and Selina start developing real feelings for each other.

One of the most unique aspects of the film is that it assembles a racially diverse cast of actors to play high society folks in 19th Century England (Dirisu is Black, Pinto is of Indian descent, etc.), characters who historically would have been white. The film is not quite radical enough to make a deeper statement with its “colour blind” casting, but it still adds an interesting and refreshing layer to the storytelling.

The film is based on the 2009 book of the same name by Suzanne Allain, a self-published novel which the author adapted into a screenplay that made its way onto the Black List, where it was discovered by director Emma Holly Jones. The story was adapted into a short film in 2019 produced by Refinery29, which provides the basis for this feature version, with many of the cast members reprising their roles.

The story is predictable to a tee, and ultimately follows the typical romantic comedy tropes, with a script that doesn’t go that deep (the film also opens with voiceover narration that gets quickly abandoned). But Mr. Malcolm’s List still serves as a handsome production that is kept enjoyable to watch thanks to its fine performances and period costumes. Jones keeps the film moving with a breezy tone, building towards an expected but thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

Mr. Malcolm’s List is now available on a variety of Digital/VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

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