Runtime: 117 Minutes
Director: Emma Holly Jones
Writer: Suzanne Allain (based on the book by) (screenplay by)
Stars: Freida Pinto, Sope Dirisu, Zawe Ashton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Theo James
By Tom Moore
Emma Holly Jones’ feature directorial debut, an adaptation of Suzanne Allain’s 2009 self-published novel “Mr. Malcolm’s List”, is an instantly likeable period dramedy romance in the spirit of Jane Austen.
The film delves into an era of romance where women were constantly in the pursuit of a suitor in hopes of a marriage proposal. While some succeeded in their romantic endeavors and found love, others who struggled or simply rejected societal expectations were often lambasted. Jones excellently showcases the perspective of women in this time as failing to find love often led to harsh labels being thrown their way or being viewed as lesser. Even worse is that there always seem to be a mobile peanut gallery always taking shots at those who aren’t as lucky in love, like Julia (Zawe Ashton).
After a date gone wrong with a coveted suitor named Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dirisu) and learning that she did not meet his literal list of qualifications, Julia is mocked by those around her and receives public torment via a harsh caricature. Julia, feeling scorned by Mr. Malcolm, hatches a revenge scheme involving her commoner friend Selina (Freida Pinto) to embarrass Mr. Malcolm. However, as Selina and Mr. Malcolm start to spend time together, they find a true love with each other that makes Julia’s plan start to backfire.
These characters are really a blast from the start as all the performances really hook you through their charm and the comedic wit that’s elevated by Allain’s writing and Jones’ direction. Ashton is perfectly petty as Julia, but her pettiness comes off in a fun way as she crafts this devious revenge plan against Mr. Malcolm. Her cousin Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is constantly making you laugh through his reluctance to go along with Julia’s plan and Jackson-Cohen breaks from his usual horror roles well to be more comedic and heartfelt. Pinto and Dirisu easily steal your heart the most though as watching their love story come together is incredibly satisfying because these two give such versatile performances with the emotion and charm they bring, but also because of how this story dissects love.
“Mr. Malcolm’s List” doesn’t try to define or stake its claim about what true love is, but rather makes you more invested in these characters and then dissects love through their personal arcs. Mr. Malcolm, for instance, seems good-natured in making his list as it simply is so he finds someone who loves him for him rather than just his money or social standing. However, in the film’s final act it perfectly explores how the list also influences his arrogance and fears about love creating an incredibly fulfilling arc for the character. Even Selina and Julia go through their own journeys with love that’s more complicated by Julia’s underhanded acts of revenge and the arrival of the charming and good-hearted Henry (Theo James), who is just a gem because of James’ performance.
It’s a story filled with characters and perspectives that really leave an impact and make you invested into this genuine and surprisingly comedic tale of romance. “Mr. Malcolm’s List” provides some great laughs here and there that come from not only the cast’s great chemistry, but Allain’s writing and Jones’ direction that channels the best part of an Austen comedy like “Emma”. The line deliveries are just perfectly timed to be hilarious and some of the situations, including the opening caricature, will just easily make you laugh. Even some of the costume design plays into the funny and often ridiculously over the top parts of this era, leading to a well-designed ballroom costume party, and it’s what makes “Mr. Malcolm’s List” an incredibly enjoyable watch because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“Mr. Malcolm’s List” is the year’s biggest hidden gem thus far as its cast, writing, and direction are superb in creating an Austen-like romantic comedy with some great wit and heart behind it. It’s a romantic tale that’s tough to resist and will easily wrap itself around the hearts of those who see it.