I used to be an ardent fan of Jane Austen genre in my teen years, and a bit of nostalgia for storybook romance still lingers. Perhaps that’s why I watched Mr. Malcolm’s List by myself while my girlfriends were watching Elvis in the cinema hall next to me.
I knew that this was a romantic period drama set in the wake of Jane Austen and Bridgerton. I expected more of the same society flair, flutter, teas, balls and desperate attempts of young people to make a suitable match. A must to survive and ensure a place in society in the 19th century British high society.
Freida Rocks As Selina
But I was curious to see one of my favorite actresses Freida Pinto (the lady who created quite a buzz in Slumdog Millionaire) in high-waisted empire gowns, curtsying and sipping English tea, I had no doubt in my mind that Freida would rock it as Selina—and she did!
A vicar’s daughter from Sussex, Selina is no country mouse. Her father’s limited means have her in financial constraints but she does not succumb to the advances of a persistent elderly suitor who chases her round and round the tea table. But the way she manages to rebuff his advances with utmost poise and aplomb shows off her high pedigree.
Dashingly Handsome Mr. Malcolm
Setting the stage for her interactions with her childhood friend Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) and the dashingly handsome but reserved Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dirisu, a British Nigerian actor.) He is a tall, dark reinvention of Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, and the smoldering Duke of Basset (Rege-Jean Page from Bridgerton season 1).
A Suitable Wife
Mr. Malcolm’s charms are many, but so is his list of requirements for a suitable wife, which he shares with his friend Lord Cassidy, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen.
The hero has the temerity to check the list off one by one: He wants his romantic partner to be intelligent, altruistic, musical, genteel, and so on. It actually preposterous rejects women for fluttering their eyelashes too much.
Julia is a most interestingly flawed character. She is wealthy, entitled, fond of creamy desserts, and prone to twisted chicanery. Having failed at finding a suitor in four consecutive seasons, she sets her cap of feathers at the most eligible bachelor Mr. Malcolm. But when he takes her to the opera, her efforts to win him fall flat.
Julia becomes the laughingstock and vows to put Malcolm in his place. She invites her “impoverished friend” Selina to London to help with her plan. Selina is indebted to her friend Julia and goes along with her friend’s “lark” to bring down the haughty bachelor a peg or two. But she soon discovers that he is not what Julia makes him out to be and is rather kind and charming towards her. And Mr. Malcolm starts falling for her.
Divian Ladwa, the footman/chaperone who wears a powdered wig and is almost in every frame, is hilarious in his judgmental expressions of the ton, his aspirations to buy lavish country estate, his dance with the maid in the wee hours of the morning, and his foot-in-the-mouth expression on seeing his employers in compromising situations.
Pinto and Dirisu have great on scene chemistry, not as rippling as the energy between the wilful Kate Sharma and Anthony Bridgerton, but restrained and inhibited. A bit awkward in places, but charmingly romantic, like a ’50s Bollywood movie. I can’t rave about it like Bridgerton, neither did it make my heart race like Elvis. But it’s worth seeing once or you can wait to stream it.
I had less than ten audience members in the theater with me, and they were laughing at the sharp repartee and cheering the romantic reunion in a picture-perfect English countryside with the proud Mr. Malcolm (now her Jeremy) on his knees beside his beautiful Goddess of the Moon Selene. A predictable but a touching end indeed.
Starting July 21st, Mr. Malcolm’s List will be available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Prime Video, Google Play and Vudu.