SET in the late 1810s, Mr Malcolm’s List is a delightful, sparkling rom-com that won’t tax you, but will leave you feeling rather warm inside.
Based on a short story written a while ago by Suzanne Allain, it’s full of treats: a cast delightful on the eye, beautiful landscapes, lavish costumes and huge doses of absurdism. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and nor should you. Just enjoy. Think light touch Jane Austen, cleverly reworked to reflect the multi-cultural society that we have become.
The film will make you smile and realise that the art of dating hasn’t changed in more than 200 years. Back in Regency times, finding a partner was as brutal as it is today. Swipe left or swipe right?
At the film’s heart are three strong individuals: two women who first met at a ladies’ academy and the striking and loaded Jeremy Malcolm (The Honourable Jeremy Malcolm no less). He’s London’s most eligible bachelor and women swoon for his attention. He preens, he broods and self-confidence gushes from every pore.
Mr Malcolm (Sope Dirisu) is on the hunt for a suitable partner, but he doesn’t want to make the wrong choice. So he has a list of criteria that any suitor must pass.
Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) has done the annual high society courtship rounds a few times and finds herself at the opera with the hugely desirable Mr Malcolm. But she fails to live up to his expectations, leading to much ridicule in society press. When she discovers from her cousin Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) that Mr Malcolm has a score sheet which determines whether he can take a relationship further, she seeks revenge. Miss Thistlewaite is as hard as nails – mess with her at your peril.
Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto), her friend from the ladies academy she attended in her youth, is brought on board – essentially to lead Mr Malcolm up the proverbial garden path. That is, to do to him what he did to Miss Thistlewaite. Of course, it doesn’t quite work that way as hearts and eye lashes (Mr Malcolm has a thing about eyelashes) soon flutter. Yes, Mr Malcolm and Miss Dalton are both irresistibly drawn to each other like magnets, yet their relationship is not without vicious – almost cataclysmic- twists and turns.
It’s all fun, frolicking ballrooms, formal family gatherings and some sensual dancing (the only time that men and women escaped their courtiers). When Mr Malcolm and Miss Dalton eventually dance, the voltage in the ballroom goes up several amps. You can feel the sexual chemistry seeping out of the screen.
Yet, while the viewer’s eye is constantly drawn to the courtship between the swaggering Mr Malcolm and the cool Selina Dalton (all reminiscent of a chess game), the film offers plenty more.
It’s a rather splendid cast and director Emma Holly Jones cleverly gives all of them their moments in the spotlight.
There are confident performances from Oliver Jackson-Cohen who coats his Lord Cassidy in a thick layer of PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. The result is a kindly – and somewhat feather-brained – individual who sorts out other people’s problems rather than his own. You can’t help but like him. A loveable buffoon.
Theo James’s Captain Henry Ossory is also delightful, brimming with confidence to equal that of Mr Malcolm and with a big eye for the other sex (no doubt influenced by the awful things he has just witnessed at the Battle Of Waterloo).
Miss Dalton, who looked after his aunt before she died, is the lothario’s first target. But he changes course as he is drawn to the feisty Miss Thistlewaite – no doubt desiring yet more battles.
There is also a boisterous (and rather splendid) performance from Ashley Park as an over the top Gertie Covington (related to the Daltons). Our Gertie is a bundle of energy – an antidote to the formal ways of Regency high society. Relationships? Bring them on.
Other strong cameo performances come from Paul Tylak (a kindly vicar and father of Selina), and Divian Ladwa – a servant who goes by the name of John. He observes all and says little other than through his big bulging eyes. He’s never far from the action.
But of course, the film’s stars are Dirisu, Ashton and Pinto who give the film its zest. For sure, Emma Holly Jones has created a thing of beauty and most importantly a twenty first century comedy set in the early 1800s. It should appeal to all ages and all people. Hats off to Pam Downe for designing some exquisite costumes and to Tony Miller for breath-taking cinematography (the film was shot in Ireland).
Mr Malcolm’s List provides two hours of escapism from the cruel world we live in. Devour it. Swipe right and start smiling.
Mr Malcolm’s List is released on August 26.