Mr. Malcolm’s List

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Mr. Malcolm's List
dir Emma Holly Jones
scr Suzanne Allain
prd Laura Rister, Laura Lewis, Katie Holly, Emma Holly Jones
with Freida Pinto, Zawe Ashton, Sope Dirisu, Theo James, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Dona Croll, Naoko Mori, Ashley Park, Divian Ladwa, Sianad Gregory, Paul Tylak, Dawn Bradfield
release US 1.Jul.22,
UK 26.Aug.22
22/Ireland 1h57

ashton james jacksoncohen

Is it streaming?

dirisu and pinto
There's more than a whiff of Bridgerton in this 19th century romcom's multi-ethnic casting and wicked one-liners. Spicing up an Austen-style period drama can be fun, although it's difficult to measure up regarding plot and characters. Fans of these kinds of fizzy stories who can look beyond the gimmicky production will have some fun here, even as the script by novelist Suzanne Allain bogs down in its own machinations.
In 1818 England, eligible bachelor Mr Malcolm (Dirisu) has a list of strict qualifications for a bride. When the press portrays him as cruelly dismissing Julia (Ashton), she enlists her cousin Lord Cassidy (Jackson-Cohen) to salvage her reputation. And when she learns about the list, Julia also decides to get even, turning her childhood best friend Selina (Pinto), who has been living happily single in the countryside, into Malcolm's perfect partner. Then Selina's handsome old friend Captain Ossory (James) turns up to provide added rivalry. Soon all of London society is buzzing with gossip.
Malcolm has set his list to cut through the usual courtship trickery employed by young women, which is oddly exemplified in how Julia's only ideas involve deception. But then, all of this becomes irrelevant, because Selina actually lives up to Malcolm's exacting requirements. This of course annoys Julia, who only wants cruel revenge. Conversely, the obvious question is whether Malcolm is worthy of Selina, and if either Ossory or Cassidy will stir things up in a series of pointed dinners, balls and a pivotal masquerade party. At least the cast is solid enough to make the antics enjoyable.

Wavering between humour and intelligence, the dialog creates odd inconsistencies within the characters, which the superb actors overcome with sheer charm. Pinto's Selina is likeably quick-witted even if she's rather too smart and dully perfect. Ashton's Julia is introduced as a vapid airhead before transforming into a petty-minded master manipulator. Dirisu and James find nice textures in their roles that transcend the plot's farcical setup, while Jackson-Cohen manhandles his badly underwritten role as best he can.

Scenes are packed with colourful side characters who spice things up, although they generally remain rather comically simplistic. While director Jones tries to provoke some swoon-worthy encounters, the heavy-handed narrative melodrama continually upstages it. So the gyrations of various romances must strain to provide an engaging enough range of emotional moments. And everything is far too luxuriant to generate honest sparks, leaving the more interesting themes unexplored just under the gorgeous surfaces.

cert pg some themes 18.Jul.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall