In 2009, Suzanne Allain self-published a novel, Mr. Malcolm’s List, which she then adapted into a script that she later submitted to the Black List website, where it was read on their podcast. This resulted in a film deal, so congratulations to Suzanne Allain for manifesting this sh-t into the universe and willing the film adaptation of her book into existence. Mr. Malcolm’s List follows the Bridgerton example—or the Personal History of David Copperfield example—and engages in color-blind casting to recreate the Regency era, and it stumbles into some of the same issues as Bridgerton, chiefly not considering how a post-racial society would have to adjust some of its rules and mores to make sense, but if you don’t get bogged down in the nitpicky finer points of strict social interaction, Mr. Malcolm’s List is an airy confection, a passable entertainment for an afternoon’s amusement.
Freida Pinto stars as Selina, a spinsterish woman recently left in constrained circumstances by the death of her patroness, an elderly society matron for whom she served as a lady’s companion. Just in the nick of time, to save her from country boredom and an undesirous proposal, Selina’s childhood friend, Julia Thistlewaite (a SUBLIME Zawe Ashton), writes to implore Selina to come to London and keep her company. Selina goes, and there she gets drawn into a plot of Julia’s making. Julia, you see, has been publicly jilted by The Honorable Jeremy Malcolm (Sope Dirisu), a younger son of yet considerable fortune and the season’s prime catch. Julia has not just been rejected by Mr. Malcolm, she is also the subject of a humiliating caricature, and she wants revenge on Mr. Malcolm for embarrassing her. Halfheartedly aiding her is her foppish cousin, Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, showing more charm than his various horror projects usually let him, but also only halfway committing to queer-coding Cassie).
At heart, List is a comedy of manners with a dash of A Midsummer Night’s Dream sprinkled over it—everyone is in love with the wrong person for a bit. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s great to see Freida Pinto playing a witty heroine in a dashing bonnet, and Sope Dirisu perfectly balances Jeremy’s desire for a wife he loves with his self-importance. He really does have a list, and at least in the beginning, something of a horse trader’s attitude toward finding a wife (a point made explicit, with an entire scene staged at a horse auction), but he also yearns for love and a partner who satisfies his mind as well as his heart. He’s a closet romantic engaged in the very unromantic effort of securing a bride on the Marriage Mart, a recipe for disaster.
Disaster does ensue, and part of List’s charm is how simple is its premise. There are schemes and machinations, a vulgar cousin—played with glee by Emily In Paris’s Ashley Park, but she really does not have enough to do—and a masquerade ball, but the dramatics never reach the pitch of midnight rides through the rain. Julia is hellbent on her revenge, but List follows the interpersonal consequences of her stubbornness rather than build up to ever more ridiculous plot points. Caught in the middle is kind Selina, who wants to help her friend but also doesn’t think Jeremy is quite the villain Julia makes him out to be. (The film willfully ignores that there really were social consequences for young ladies abandoned by prominent suitors.) List remixes famous lines from Jane Austen, particularly Pride and Prejudice, but Jeremy and Selina aren’t quite a Darcy-and-Elizabeth level couple. Mr. Malcolm’s List is overall too slight to survive the comparison. It’s like a macaron with no filling—sweet enough, but mostly air.
Mr. Malcom’s List is exclusively in theaters from July 1, 2022.