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Article: Mr Malcolm's List - The Austen Blog Review

Mr Malcolm's List Movie Poster
Ashley Park

Mr Malcolm's List - The Austen Blog Review

Mr Malcolm's List Movie Poster


What’s the recipe for a good regency romance? Is it the manners? The language? The threat of ruin if you so much as touch someone of the opposite sex without gloves?

After a run of media which leans more into the modern side of Austen and, of course, the Netflix meteorite which is Bridgerton, Mr Malcolm’s List is refreshingly back to basics with the regency formula, but it doesn’t quite wow.

The story follows Selina, the daughter of a country vicar, brought to London by an old friend to take the titular Mr Malcolm down a peg or two. The friend in question, Julia, was recently humiliated when Mr Malcolm rejected her due to her not meeting the requirements on his list of attributes for a wife. Enraged, she enlists Selina’s help to present him with the perfect woman and give him a taste of what it’s like to be rebuffed. Of course, Selina and Mr Malcolm immediately fancy each other, throwing the plan off track.

Like the fun short film which began the story’s journey into being a feature, Mr Malcolm embraces diverse casting, which is a great choice. Otherwise, though, it reminded me more of the 90’s version of Emma than most of the recent regency offerings, for better and for worse. 

Like the Gwyneth Paltrow classic, the language and settings don’t quite feel historical, but you never feel like they’re about to talk about playlists or blast out a string cover of a Madonna song either. The steamy side of the regency genre never gets a look in and, while you get the impression that dandy Cousin Cassie isn’t likely to settle down with a lady any time soon, it doesn’t really go into it more than that. 

The tone of the film made me remember watching older Jane Austen adaptations as a 9- and 10-year-old with my Mum, and that was nice. There hasn’t been a story like this you can watch with the whole family for a while. Lots of the performances were charismatic (more on that later) and it cinematically looked pretty, if a bit derivative of other things. If that all sounds a bit lukewarm then… yeah, that’s about the size of it. 

I think it’ll be a great introduction to romance films for tweens, in the same way 13 going on 30 and even the 2005 P&P is, and a comforting movie to watch on a sick day, but I can’t think of many other situations where I’d be inspired to watch it again despite liking it well enough.

I think the whole concept of the list might be some of the problem. The fact that Mr Malcolm has things he wants out of a bride doesn’t seem that big of a deal, but everyone keeps treating it as a huge roadblock. To be clear, his conditions are mostly on the scale of “pretty and can hold an intelligent conversation” rather than anything super specific. This makes it hard for the stakes to ever feel serious - it’s hard to suspend disbelief for a moment that everything will work itself out in the end.

This might have been fine if there were a lot of other bells and whistles distract or wow viewers, but there really aren’t. A few moments got me to take notice – Julia breaking down and revealing how vulnerable she feels all the time, and Mr Malcolm’s initial reaction to the third act switcheroo, but these fleeting moments didn’t feel solid enough to make the plot feel like it mattered. 

While I can’t think of a character I’d like to have seen less of, the large cast also pushes a lot of the romance to the background, which means even the central relationship is hard to fully invest in.

Without that basis, you’re left with charming people wandering around having charming conversations and occasionally proposing marriage, while the household staff make wry comments in the background. A pleasant way to spend an hour and a half, but that’s more or less it. 

When you’re watching an Austen adaptation, the characters are allowed to be spikier and fall further and there’s often more social commentary. With Bridgerton and other spicier Regency romances I’ve read, the tension, half glances and secrecy pull you along. Even with gentler classics like Cranford, the time you get to bond with the characters makes every little thing matter, but Mr Malcolm’s List just doesn’t get any of this to work with. 

Now I’ve explained why it didn’t quite work for me as a whole, I want to really talk about a few things which were really lovely. 

The whole main cast did a fantastic job. Frieda Pinto and Zawe Ashton are both funny, warm, and expressive as the women right at the centre of the story. They have a slightly unequal friendship balanced with real fondness that plays out convincingly -  Ashton’s chemistry with Theo James was excitingly sizzling too. 

The film didn’t give Mr Malcolm enough screen time for the Mr Darcy effect to fully work but, in his more sincere scenes, Sope Dirisu pulled off passionate and vulnerable under a still surface really well. 

In a fairly paint-by-numbers romance story, I also really enjoyed the character of Cassie – Julia’s cousin. I kept expecting him to turn into a Henry Crawford figure – scheming or malicious with a secret vice – but he was just a soft and endlessly loving cheerleader to his friend’s happiness, and you don’t see lots of men like that on the screen. I didn’t at all recognise him as the same Oliver Jackson who had been so creepily riveting in The Haunting of Blye Manor, but that was a fun surprise.

Unlike most movies based in this time period, the servants also get quite a few lines. This is mostly comic relief, but it works, and Divian Ladwa and Sianad Gregory also play out a sweet tertiary romance in the margins of scenes.

I also wanted to shout out the whole Masked Ball scene. Lots of the scenery, cinematography, and even music in Mr Malcolm feels like it’s copying something else, but the ball looks and feels distinct from any other regency media I’ve seen and it works really well. The costumes are beautiful, the lighting’s mysterious and exciting, and the acting between the main pair’s never better. Definitely put it on your YouTube playlist of swoon-worthy ballroom scenes!

More serious reviewers than I might call it fanservice-y, but I also had fun with the references sprinkled in. These range from the Lady Whistledown-esque narrator who disappears 5 minutes in, to direct lines from Pride and Prejudice used about food or fashion. All a nice opportunity to catch the eye of fellow Austen fans in the room and laugh conspiratorially. 

Would I recommend Mr Malcolm’s List? It depends. I don’t know if it’s worth spending city cinema ticket money on, and I wouldn’t go in expecting to have your mind blown, but the world also needs some gentle, escapist movies you don’t need to think too hard about, and it fills that role quite well. 

Hazel is a classic lit fan, craft maker, and occasional web series creator, living and working in Bristol, UK. You can watch and support her latest series (a modern adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion) on YouTube: Season 2 coming Summer 2022! 
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1 comment

Mr Malcolm’s List was wonderful and apart from missing Mr Darcy I thoroughly loved was beautiful and romantic and the actors were fabulousxxxx

Joanne Easter

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