Directed by Emma Holly Jones and written by Suzanne Allain, who also wrote the novel of the same name, Julia is jilted by London’s most eligible bachelor, Mr. Malcolm, when she fails to meet an item on his list of requirements for a bride. Feeling humiliated and determined to exact revenge, she convinces her friend Selina to play the role of his ideal match. Starring: Zawe Ashton, Sope Dirisu, Freida Pinto, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Theo James, Divian Ladwa and Doña Croll.
You could immediately boil this down into, if you love period pieces and romance flicks then you’re really going to enjoy this, but is there plenty for everyone else? That’s a bit more complicated. Without doubt the easiest part of that question to answer is the cast, because there’s a brilliant group of actors at work here. Starting with Mr Malcolm’s List’s leading ladies, played by Zawe Ashton and Freida Pinto, who both slide into the Victorian era with ease. They create almost polar opposite personalities but both have their own charm to offer, Ashton’s Julia is filled with energy and ambition, while Pinto’s Selina has a quiet, humble, intelligent nature. The two are then well matched with their male counterparts, starting with some comic relief and a good stirring of the pot from Oliver Jackson-Cohen. Sope Dirisu brings the titular Mr Malcolm to life with a grand presence and a stubbornness mixed with kindness which perfectly fits the beloved mould. Topped with Theo James, charming, debonair and a little bit cheeky to throw a wrench, albeit fairly softly, in the works.
After that, the strongest element is its visual, it’s absolutely full of colour and life, fully embracing both the rigid society and the hijinks that linger behind closed doors. A key part of any period piece is the costumes and here you get exactly what you want with a little bit extra thrown in. It chooses plentiful locations to capitalize on the grand wealth of its characters, holding up their high standing in society. The pacing works well for the most part but it does feel a little slow at times. The cinematography keeps things very light, it leans into its love of melodrama and playful nature. It’s definitely one of the key aspects that helps it hold the right balance, keeping away from taking itself too seriously.
The story works in a similar way, it’s highly dramatic and will work very well for fans of Bridgerton and any Gossip Girl-esque period piece. It’s all about appearances, romance and revenge which is a very successful combination typically, although its success feels mixed here. When it’s focusing on the comedic or fun-loving moments it all works well, it’s entertaining and easy-going. However, when it approaches its finale and tries to bring in conflict and more sincere drama, things begin to fall apart. Then eventually it just lands into a high level of stereotype which doesn’t match the tone it has built so far and slightly undermines the more original, modern feel up to that point.
Mr Malcolm’s List attempts to modernize period pieces with a more fun and charmingly melodramatic feel but ultimately ends up in an overly familiar place. What it’s teasing us with in the first half is more exciting than its finale. Although, the rest of the work is well done, it’s superbly casted, it’s full of colour and energy and it’s pretty much exactly what you want out of a period piece. Sadly it just can’t hold up its original side all the way through and falls into stereotypes that don’t have much to offer.