A diverse period piece with a delightful vibe.
After the success of the diverse casting in such period entertainments as the movie “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” the play “Hamilton,” and the hit show “Bridgerton,” we have another movie called “Mr. Malcolm’s List.” This would be known as colorblind casting. I’m relieved there are such things as period pieces that care less about the harsh and unthinkable racism that has threatened the world, and lets us see the actors putting life into their characters. It’s not what’s on the outside, but inside that matters.
In “Mr. Malcolm’s List,” based on Suzanne Allain’s novel, it’s about a romance that tries to give its main characters the message that nobody’s perfect, although it’s part of a ruse. Even if we can see the rules of this particular genre, we can also see the elegance and delightfulness that emerge within.
The time setting is in 1800s England. We meet the wealthy, young heir Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dirisu), who is looking for the lady of his dreams. He even has a list of qualifications for a bride, much to the surprise of his friend Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Hence the title “Mr. Malcolm’s List.”
We also meet two best friends: Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) and Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton). Julia, who is also Cassidy’s cousin, meets Mr. Malcolm at the opera, but she doesn’t qualify for his list. When she finds out from Cassidy about that, she’s humiliated to the point of writing to Selina, who is looking for a new job. She asks her to come to her place for a new “position.”
The plan is simple.
Selina must transform herself into the ideal proper lady of Mr. Malcolm’s likings, and put him in his place, by making him unqualified for her list. As she spends time with him, Selina sees something in him, while Julia wants her to stick to the plan.
Other characters in the story include the charming soldier Captain Henry Ossory (Theo James), who intends to court Selina, but plans may change; and her bubbly cousin Gertie Covington (Ashley Park), who pops up unexpectedly.
“Mr. Malcolm’s List” reminded me of a Spanish comedy called “A la mala,” which was about an actress who falls in love with the man she was paid to prove his infidelity. It was cute, but didn’t reach my list. This is the better version in the ways it gives us a vibe that cares less about the rules of the past, and more about how people should see the characteristics inside these romantics of difference races.
Pinto has a reserved and sweet nature, Ashton uses her emotions wisely in comical or serious aspects, Dirisu has style and consistency, and Jackson-Cohen has some exuberance in a fashionable sense. They’re dressed in superb costumes with the right dresses, hats, suits, and bonnets. And they’re also guided with taste by Emma Holly Jones, who also made a short film of the story back in 2019 with Pinto, Dirisu, and Jackson-Cohen. Gemma Jones was in Ashton’s role, BTW.
The lesson is that you don’t need a list to distinguish true love; you need patience and understanding to find it. This is what I would say to Mr. Malcolm if I stood right in front of him.
Even if a few parts are derivative, there’s still a sense of levity and romance that makes “Mr. Malcolm’s List” enjoyable and radiant. It has personality checks, turning points, and what love has to do with them. To close off my review on a film with colorblind casting, I’ve never watched “Bridgerton,” but I’m sure fans of that show could see something inside this movie. I saw “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” and the filmed version of “Hamilton,” and I had fun with all films.