You already know almost every plot development in Mr. Malcolm’s List. And that is sort of
the point. Adapted by Suzanne Allain from her own 2009 novel, it’s an affectionate nod to
the works of Jane Austen, imitating their very familiar bumpy courtships. Mr Malcolm (Gangs of London’s Sope Dirisu) is one of England’s most eligible bachelors and it looks like he might stay that way. He has a firm list of requirements from his bride – a literal list, written down with beautiful penmanship – and every woman he meets his found wanting.
One of those wanting women is Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton), a vastly rich, attractive
woman who cannot find a husband. After a single outing, in which she bores him by not
being up to speed on her corn laws, Malcolm’s rejection of Julia becomes public knowledge,
causing something of a scandal. Determined to get revenge, Julia enlists the help of her
friend Selina (Freida Pinto), to trick Malcolm into falling in love with her so she can reject him
as cruelly as Julia feels she was rejected. The plan goes almost immediately awry when
Selina and Malcolm fancy each other rotten.
It sounds a rather thin idea, which perhaps it is, but Allen’s script, Emma Holly Jones’s
handsome direction and an excellent cast put meat on its bones. Dirisu makes Malcolm both
proud and somewhat pitiable, a man erecting his little list of hurdles to keep others distant.
Pinto does a good spin on an exasperated Elizabeth Bennet type. Theo James’s job, as
Captain Henry Ossory, is mostly to be handsome, at which he excels. Ashton is the stand-
out, delivering Julia’s withering lines with twinkling wit, while also making you sympathise
with her genuine fear of loneliness. If the rest of the cast could land a subtle joke as well as she can this might have risen to match some of the best Austen adaptations.
Think of it as if it’s an adaptation of really good Jane Austen fan fiction
For all its sly nods, it doesn’t really subvert the Regency romance genre, but it quickly becomes clear that isn’t the goal. This is a film to put you in the same easy, comforted mood as a good Austen adaptation, which it does very well. Think of it as if it’s an adaptation of good Austen fan fiction. It might not have the quality of the real deal, but it has plenty of the same charms.
In UK cinemas Fri Aug 26.