Synopsis: When she fails to meet an item on his list of requirements for a bride, Julia Thistlewaite is jilted by London’s most eligible bachelor, Mr. Malcolm. Feeling humiliated and determined to exact revenge, she convinces her friend Selina Dalton to play the role of his ideal match. Soon, Mr. Malcolm wonders whether he’s found the perfect woman…or the perfect hoax.
Stars: Freida Pinto, Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ashley Park, Zawe Ashton, Theo James
Director: Emma Holly Jones
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: The story of how Mr. Malcom’s List arrived on the screen is one of those old-fashioned Hollywood success stories built on gumption and grit. Writer Suzanne Allain adapted her self-published novel from 2009 into a script that she submitted to be placed on The Black List, a highly coveted survey of the best-unproduced scripts which attract top studio and filmmaker interest. When director Emma Holly Jones caught wind of it, she gathered the right people to get the rights to make the film, first making a short adaptation available on YouTube that you can watch here, along with the other 2 million others who have already seen it.
With the proven success of that short, not only did Allain’s original novel get an official publication from a top publishing house, but a feature film was greenlit and is now being released as a mid-summer bit of counter-programming. The timing couldn’t be better because the flirt and froth of the piece feel like the light cleansing we needed, but that’s not to say this Jane Austen meets Bridgerton romantic comedy of manners is all fun and games. As glorious as the vistas are (cinematography from Tony Miller is genuinely breathtaking) and as appealing as much of the cast is, there’s an overall feeling of small-ness that audiences can’t ignore.
A great injustice has been done to poor Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton, Greta)…at least in the eyes of Julia Thistlewaite. The oh-so-dreamy, oh-so-eligible, and oh-so-rich Mr. Malcolm has rejected her because she does not measure up to an, until now, unknown list of requirements he has for a bride. This news was told to her by Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, The Invisible Man), a friend of Malcolm’s who has seen said list and knows its contents. Frustrated at her lack of landing the bachelor every woman wants, Julia is determined to pay him back his just reward. So she employs her long-time best friend, Selina Dalton (Frida Pinto, Needle in a Timestack), to not only meet his requirements but, in a feat of triumph, reject him with a list of Julia’s own making once he has fallen for her, or, rather, Selina.
Of course, romantic entanglements are never as simple as the best-laid plans, and sweet Selina needs little help with being an ideal partner for Mr. Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, His House). As the two fall in love and Selina begins to see it is Julia that needs the reality check, her allegiance to her friend at a time when women couldn’t afford to be so free with their future prospects becomes a most challenging problem indeed. The arrival of an old Selina suitor (Theo James, Archive) complicates matters, and when he starts to set his sights on Julia, who is too focused on Malcolm to see love can spring from many corners, the stage is set for several comeuppances and heartbreak.
I still haven’t watched the original short at the time of this writing, but I imagine it would have the same good heart and intentions as this full-length feature. There’s a lovely shine to almost every frame of the film, and Jones directs her actors to delightful performances, though I wasn’t sold on Pinto’s gentle modernity. As good as Ashton is as the scheming Julia, I think swapping roles with Pinto might have worked better. Dìrísù continues to shine with each role and his befuddlement at finally finding the woman he seeks and breathing a sigh of relief his love journey has come to an end is playful and, most pivotal, believable.
Yet at 115 minutes, the movie drags, especially around the sixty-minute mark, when we can see where things are headed and await the inevitable conclusion that arrives with little surprises. The only major flame fanned in the final act is a notable performance from Doña Croll as Malcolm’s mother, keenly aware her son is putting too many roadblocks in his path to love. I wish Croll had more scenes because she brought life to a film that was starting to tamper out. It does spring back nicely as it closes, even finishing with a credits sequence that tells an entire next chapter in the lives of our characters – critical developments if you have been as invested in Mr. Malcom’s List as the filmmakers hope you would be. I think most moviegoers, especially those waiting for Bridgerton Season 3, will enjoy this for the palette cleanser it is. If only it were filling at the same time.