From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
For those of us who are fans of Jane Austen movie adaptations and binged the Netflix mega-hit Bridgerton, the announcement of a movie adaptation of Suzanne Alaine’s popular Regency-era novel, Mr. Malcolm’s List, was the best news this period drama lover could receive. While our anticipation ran high, we were also anxious if the production company could pull it off. Inevitably, any Regency-era romantic comedy will be compared to Austen on the screen, some of which are excellent (I am looking at you Pride and Prejudice 1995) and others missed the mark entirely and will remained unnamed. The fact that Alaine’s novel was very clever and entertaining, and she would be the screenwriter, was highly in its favor.
Sope Dirsu stars as The Honorable Mr. Jeremy Malcolm
The Second Son of an Earl Seeks An Accomplished Woman
Those of you familiar with the character of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice will remember that he is wealthy and arrogant with high ideals of an accomplished woman. He admits that he does not know of half-a-dozen of his acquaintance that meet his standards. After listening to the list, Elizabeth Bennet is surprised of his knowing of any. This scene could very well have been Alaine’s inspiration for Mr. Malcolm’s List. Her hero, The Honorable Mr. Jeremy Malcolm (Sope Dirisu) is the handsome, unmarried second son of an earl, the epitome of the famous opening line of Pride and Prejudice, “A single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Like Darcy, he is also rigid in his expectations of the woman who could become his wife. He has compiled a list of qualifications. If a young lady does not meet his requirements, she is quickly eliminated. As he powers through the eligible young ladies in London, he earns the reputation for being the “destroyer of dreams.”
Freida Pinto stars as Selina Dalton, and Zawe Ashoton as Julia Thistlewaite, two school classmates reuntited.
A Revenge Scheme is Hatched
After being coldly rejected by Mr. Malcolm, Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) wants revenge. With the help of her friend Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who shared Mr. Malcolm’s list of requirements with her, she hatches a scheme to give him his just desserts. She will make him fall madly in love with the perfect accomplished woman who will in turn spurn him. Her choice of a fake suitor is her down on her luck childhood friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) who eagerly accepts her invitation to stay with her wealthy friend in London without any knowledge of Julia’s plans for her. After some pressure, she agrees to participate and Julia and Lord Cassidy begin their makeover of Selina to transform her into the perfect woman to catch Mr. Malcolm’s attention, and his heart.
Mr. Malcom and Miss Dalton’s ride in the park ends not as he imagined.
My Mirror List of Regency Movie Requirements
Mr. Malcolm’s List is a glittering romantic comedy comfortably entrenched in tradition with nods to the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and the plays of George Bernard Shaw and Christopher Hampton. It delivers many of the Regency movie requirements that period drama lovers crave. Here is a list of mine:
Regency Period Drama Requirements to Mirror Mr. Malcolm’s List
- A London Season (or in Bath)
- Beautiful London townhouses and country estates
- Attractive period appropriate costuming
- A spunky, independent heroine
- A handsome, misguided hero
- A plot full of misjudgment and misconceptions
- Humorous and foibled secondary characters
- Balls and dancing
- An “all is lost” moment
- A happily-ever-after
Glenn Close as Marquise de Merteuil and John Malkovich as Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons (1988). Another spurned lover out for revenge.
Moving Beyond Traditional Tropes
Mr. Malcom’s List embraces my list and takes it one step further with a scheming revenge story supplying surprises and plot twists. This adds a bit of a sinister element to the story that makes it edgier. Julia Thistlewaite’s desire to bring down Mr. Malcolm is reminiscent of Marquise de Merteuil in Hampton’s Dangerous Liaisons and her makeover of Selena is pure Professor Henry Higgins in Shaw’s Pygmalion. Each of these plays and later movie adaptations pivot around deception and manipulation of feelings. This was an intriguing addition that moved it beyond a Jane Austen knock-off. The characters and storyline were familiar yet unique.
Zawe Ashton shines as Julia Thistlewaite
Most of the actors were superb with shoutouts to Zawe Ashton as Julia Thistlewaite who was given the most complex character to portray and handled it with energy and aplomb. She was a puzzle that needing to be solved and that kept me thinking and the plot moving quickly. Her motivations were at times a troubling, yet that was the charm in the cleverness of the story. Our heroine Selina Dalton portrayed by Freida Pinto could also be a mystery. In the opening of the story, she is without financial support yet was strong enough to turn down the marriage proposal of an odious older gentleman, however, she could be convinced by her friend Julia to participate in the humiliation of a man she had never met and knew little of. This was one of the plot holes that did not sit well with me. Pinto’s portrayal of Selina was at times to biddable and flat, though she did fire up by the end. Of the male characters, I appreciated the small roles (that should have been larger) of Captain Henry Ossory portrayed by Theo James, and Lord Cassidy mentioned earlier.
Miss Selina Dalton and Mr. Malcolm dance at the masquerade ball
Do You Dearly Love to Laugh?
Mr. Malcolm’s List gives us all the Austenesque feels—an arrogant wealthy hero, a beautiful, clever, and financially challenged heroine, a twisty marriage plot, humorous secondary characters, and English country manor locations. I recommend it to those, who like Elizabeth Bennet, dearly love a laugh.
4 out of 5 Stars
- Mr. Malcolm’s List (2022)
- Studio: Bleeker Street
- Director: Emma Holly Jones
- Screenplay: Suzanne Allain, based on her novel
- Cast: Freida Pinto, Zawe Ashton, Sope Dirisu, Theo James, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen
- Length: 1 hour and 59 minutes
- Genre: Romantic Comedy, Period Drama
We purchased a copy of this movie for our own enjoyment. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Images courtesy of Bleeker Street © 2022; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2022, austenprose.com.