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The Hollywood Insider Mr. Malcolm’s List Review

Photo: ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’

More Paperback Novel Than Austen Classic

A lot of comparisons are being made between ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ and Jane Austen adaptations. The design elements clearly draw on the likes of 2005’s ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ and the mannerisms reflect period dramas that we’ve seen before, a good many of those being adaptations of Austen’s novels. Though the comparisons have been made unfavorably, I think they’re quite far from the mark.

‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ is not as rich or sharp as an Austen novel, and I think it deserves to be considered in a different light altogether. If you’ve ever read a paperback thriller on the beach, or an unchallenging romance on a plane, you know that some forms of entertainment can be witty and amusing without being subversive. Such is the case with ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List.’

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The conceit of the film is that Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dìrúsù), unspecified Regency-England-town’s most eligible bachelor, accidentally scorns a suitor by yawning in her presence at the opera. Upon discovering that Mr. Malcolm has a pretentious list of qualifications for his suitors to meet in order to be eligible in his mind, the scorned Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) devises a plot to present him with the most perfect candidate, only for her to reject him by means of her own list of qualifications. For this, she recruits her lifelong friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto). What ensues, of course, is the coupling of unlikely duos and the softening of hearts all around.

‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ – A Subtle Push of the Envelope

The most unorthodox elements of ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ are the colorblind casting and the character of Julia, who is surprisingly well-tolerated by her relations despite being entirely self-righteous. And also perhaps the leading man is the one with a list instead of the leading lady.

The casting, which features a majority non-white cast in historically white roles, doesn’t add many layers to the story. In this world, racism simply doesn’t affect anyone. In a way, that sort of representation is refreshing. The movie’s made to be enjoyed without the freight of historical racism, which continues to be well-documented elsewhere. It allows audiences to live in an imagined reality for just a little while, like the movie version of a self-care day. Though a conscious choice on the part of director Emma Holly Jones, for whom ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ is a debut feature film, the colorblind casting is less worth reading into than the unfavorable reactions it has garnered from some audience members.

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You could argue that Julia is a feminist character who is audaciously herself in the face of gender norms, but nothing in the story supports that reading, and the furthest you could go with that analysis is something akin to the femmes fatales of French action flicks in the mid-20th century, who are, for the most part, bad people and rather two-dimensional. In a similar fashion, ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ quietly transgresses a few period drama conventions, but it’s not satire or even social commentary in the slightest.

The Finger Sandwiches

If I’m making ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ sound like a poorly executed film, au contraire mon frère. Much like a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich with your Earl Gray, it delivers exactly what you expect and leaves you with a light, satisfied feeling. A ballroom scene where the characters literally unmask themselves as a metaphor for getting more personal? Check. A pseudo-Edward Rochester with a soft heart under all that callousness? Check. Gardens? Estates? Carriages? Pointed dialogue? The list, pun intended, goes on.

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The plot is not lazy either. It is predictable, but as convoluted and mannered as you’d hope for in a period drama. The slow unraveling of Mr. Malcolm as he learns to let go of his list is pleasing mostly because Sope Dìrísù exudes an underlying wholesomeness that you want to believe in, and the interactions between Captain Henry Ossory (Theo James) and Julia are just tense enough to elicit a few good-humored pearl clutches.

Most of the substance of the film comes in the form of the ensemble’s performance. At no point do you feel derailed by the appearance of secondary characters, as everyone on screen has completely bought into the uncomplicated world of the story. Perhaps what makes the story so solid despite its predictability is how concisely it’s told. The story, though steady-going, doesn’t drag. We know what’s coming, but we enjoy the polite conversational jabs and meaningful, but equally polite, instances of physical touch as they play out. The joy of the movie comes from these little moments that build up to a simple, clean ending befitting a romantic comedy of the paperback variety.

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New-ish Faces

If nothing else, ‘Mr. Malcom’s List’ shone a spotlight on some actors who have been in the business for a while without being superstars. Sope Dìrísù, who has acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared in the likes of ‘His Dark Materials’ and ‘Black Mirror,’ got to put his charm at the forefront in this movie. If you want to see more of him, look no further than ‘Gangs of London,’ the second season of which will air this year. You may recognize Freida Pinto from ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ or ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ and she’ll be back on the big screen soon in ‘My Mother’s Wedding,’ which is currently in production.

As for the supporting actors, Zawe Ashton continues her upward rise and will star in Marvel’s ‘The Marvels,’ set for release next year. Television regular Oliver Jackson-Cohen will star across from Emma Mackey in ‘Emily,’ a reimagined biography of Emily Brontë set in modern times. Theo James, perhaps best known for his starring role in the Divergent series, can also be seen in HBO’s ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife.’

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It’s refreshing to see a period piece that doesn’t include a series of A-list celebrity names in its trailers, and doesn’t rely exclusively on star power to sell. It gives the film the sort of quaint touch that’s much harder to achieve when the stars are recognizable by their press appearances as well as their movie roles. It certainly left me with a smile on my face.

Cast: Sope Dìrísù, Freida Pinto, Zawe Ashton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Theo James

Writer: Suzanne Alain | Director: Emma Holly Jones

Music: Amelia Warner | Editing: Kate Hickey | Cinematography: Tony Miller

By Kevin Hauger

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.

I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV. media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.

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