‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ checks out. It’s a light, gratifying 19th-century rom-com.

“Mr. Malcolm’s List” (2022) – It’s 2022, and dating isn’t easy.

Millions of single men and women subscribe to dating apps, type their bios in 500 words or less, choose photos, and then attempt to sort through the madness of endless profiles, looking for a date, relationship, or permanent partner. 

Hey, this modern-day courtship process sounds convenient.  A godsend. 

Not exactly.

Everyone throwing their hat into this smartphone or laptop pursuit is presented with the same infinite choices of potential connections.  After a while, the search through the electronic memoirs becomes more succinct because, perhaps, our patience wears thin or our preferences narrow.  Through haste, we may inadvertently swipe left when we should’ve swiped right, or by looking for that perfect person, our criteria becomes too specific.  That mythical individual does not exist…at least within a 25-mile radius of home.

(If you finally connect online, then meeting this someone in-person presents a whole other set of hurdles, but that’s another discussion.)

Dating must have been less complicated back in the day, before the Internet, right?

Probably, but don’t be so sure.

Let’s introduce the Honorable Jeremiah Malcolm (Sope Dirisu), a wealthy gent from Kent, a county located southeast of London.  It’s 1818, and Mr. Malcolm might feel that a spotlight follows him 24/7 because reporters write about his personal life in the newspapers.  He’s one of the most eligible bachelors around, and he’s picky about finding a companion. 

Jeremiah Malcolm (Sope Dirisu) and Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen)

Jeremiah has a list.  A list of qualities in a wife, and he’s a stickler on the criteria.

Well, Mr. Malcolm takes Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) – a woman in her fourth season in hopes of finding a husband – to the opera, but the electric performance on stage doesn’t mirror the energy between the two.  He doesn’t call on Julia again, but she discovers the existence of Jeremiah’s list through her cousin Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen in an effectively comedic supporting performance).  Julia’s offended and hopes for some revenge, although not through bloodshed but via old-fashioned manipulation of one’s heart. 

This light-hearted, PG-rated period-piece rom-com won’t change your life, but “Mr. Malcolm’s List” might be a lovely option for friends, a first date, an 18-year-old married couple, or an 81-year-old pairing.  Director Emma Holly Jones’ film might also act as a temporary cure for the looking-for-love blues.  The movie is based on Suzanne Allain’s 2009 novel and Jones’ 2019 11-minute short of the same name.  Dirisu, Jackson-Cohen, Divian Ladwa, Sianad Gregory, and Freida Pinto star in both films!

This critic hasn’t seen the 11-minute version or read the book, but Julia recruits her school-days BFF Selina Dalton (Pinto) to win over Malcolm in this movie.  When he falls for Selina, the ladies plan that she will cast off him as a lesson for rejecting Julia.

As Julia explains, “That would be a perfect sort of poetic justice.”

Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) and Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton)

How will Selina win him over?  Through Lord Cassidy’s help, they’ve reconstructed Malcolm’s list, so Selina will have the answer key to encourage his interest and affections.  What has Malcolm exactly scribed?  Well, you have to see the movie to discover his marriage prerequisites.  Still, I’m happy to report that the picture succeeds through warm performances, graceful tones, a convincing 19th-century atmosphere, and celebrating the period’s pomp and circumstance.

Jones fills her film’s 110-minute runtime with British formalities, like polite invitations for tea, a rose garden tour, and a masquerade ball.  Sometimes, the invites occur face-to-face, and other times through hand-delivered letters, which is quite refreshing from today’s communication methods when one grabs 30 seconds to send a text.  Not only do moviegoers witness the requests, but the cozy and grand events too.  One of the highlights is the ball, where Jones and cinematographer Tony Miller capture a gentle moment when Mr. Malcolm’s and Ms. Dalton’s hands almost interlace during a Regency dance.

Costume designer Pam Downe must have worked heaps of overtime constructing her pieces.  Striking, colorful drapes, bonnets, and jackets don the attractive cast, who successfully depict 19th-century vibes as the actors stroll along gorgeous grounds and posh estates.

According to Naman Shrestha’s July 1, 2022 The Cinemaholic article, the cast and crew filmed in Ireland, not England. 

Selina (Pinto)

Emma and company spent time in Dublin and the revered Killruddery House, in nearby Bray.  As one might expect, lush greens and picturesque countryside match the comfort of the story’s elegant saunter.  Even though Julia has devious intentions, Selina doesn’t share her scheming view.  Malcolm surely could get hurt, but Selina’s altruistic outlook dramatically lessens the tension for the audience during most of the picture. 

Surprisingly, the stakes never feel high, and they probably should.  Those looking for sharp dramatic turns will be disappointed, and the screenplay – also written by Allain – includes another romance that doesn’t feel terribly earned by the characters.  The said actors don’t have much chemistry, at least from my perspective.

However, Freida and Sope share romantic harmonies, and Selina’s charm and Jeremiah’s sincerity make a coveted combination.  Admittedly, throughout most of the film, Amelia Warner’s score didn’t register with me; however, her composition touches the right beats during the most crucial moments. 

“Mr. Malcolm’s List” offers an enjoyable couple of hours at the movies, and you might trade in your dating app for a quill and stack of stationery paper…for a little while anyway.

⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Emma Holly Jones

Written by:  Suzanne Allain, based on her novel of the same name

Starring:  Sope Dirisu, Freida Pinto, Zawe Ashton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Theo James, Ashley Park, Divian Ladwa, and Sianad Gregory

Runtime:  110 minutes

Rated: PG

Image credits: Bleecker Street

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