Satisfying Regency romance
Mr. Malcolm’s List borrows familiar themes to tell a sweet story set in 19th-century England
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Mr. Malcolm is charming, rich, and handsome. But his high standards ruffle the headdress feathers of London’s young ladies vying for his attention. Mr. Malcolm’s List, adapted from the novel by Suzanne Allain, will appeal to Jane Austen loyalists and lovers of Regency-era romances. With a lovely setting and skilled acting, it’s an enjoyable if predictable story featuring good morals.
Privileged, silly Julia (Zawe Ashton) invites her more modest and intelligent friend Selina (Freida Pinto) to London. Julia feels spurned by the eligible Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dirisu) when she finds out she does not meet the qualifications on his list for a suitable wife: She’s unable to converse on current affairs and flutters her eyelashes too much. To exact revenge, she plans for Selina to win his heart and then reject him. Misadventures, masked balls, and pheasant shoots ensue.
The story is a nostalgic throwback for Pride and Prejudice lovers, and it even includes an awkward marriage proposal from a pompous man who won’t take a hint. The characters’ traits resemble those of Austen characters: Julia and Selina bring to mind Emma Woodhouse’s mischief, Elizabeth Bennet’s intelligence, and Fanny Price’s sweetness. Mr. Malcolm’s reserve and dignity echo that of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley.
The film’s unoriginal dialogue and plot—following a classic romantic comedy formula—are enhanced by strong performances from the leads and from supporting actors Theo James (Divergent) and Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Lark Rise to Candleford). The film is also beautiful, highlighting the appeal of the English countryside.
In the spirit of Netflix’s Bridgerton, the film boasts a multiethnic cast, and most of the main actors are people of color. This nontraditional approach to a Regency romance gives the movie a fresh and charming characteristic, but it requires viewers to suspend disbelief with respect to historical accuracy regarding the English upper crust.
Rated PG for smoking and mild language, Mr. Malcolm’s List is largely wholesome, and its brief depictions of Christianity are positive. Selina’s clergyman father is thoughtful and kind. Characters experience moral growth, and a few scenes depict genuine repentance, revealing a coherent moral framework that champions integrity and humility. The film pushes back against materialism.
Love and good character, it ultimately suggests, are the most important aspects in a marriage.