'Mr. Malcolm's List' is a low-key, pleasant slice of period-piece escapism - Albuquerque Journal

‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ is a low-key, pleasant slice of period-piece escapism

Sope Dirisu in “Mr. Malcolm’s List.” (Ross Ferguson/Bleecker Street)

In polite society, one must not confuse “Mr. Malcolm’s List” with “Bridgerton,” as the former is a feature film and the latter is a streaming series, and the former has a Julia Thistlewaite and the latter features a Lady Whistledown, and though they are both Regency romances featuring diverse casts and romantic intrigue, “Mr. Malcolm’s List” is a much tamer entry in the genre.

You won’t hear anachronistic string renditions of “Wrecking Ball” and “Material Girl” in “Mr. Malcolm’s List,” and there’s no nudity, just a few chaste kissing scenes – but let’s not kid ourselves. We’re still in the world of upper-crust society in the 1810s, with “The Season” and all sorts of idle-rich activities such as costumed balls and sporting forays in the country and handwritten notes inviting one to a tour of the rose garden and that sort of thing.

And if that sort of thing is your sort of thing, “Mr. Malcolm’s List” is a low-key, pleasant slice of escapism, with some lovely scenery and the attendant period-piece costumery and lavish estates, and a host of great-looking people bending themselves into all sorts of knots and doing their best to keep up with the quipping and the courtship rituals and the obligatory Misunderstandings, Deceptions and Betrayals before it all ends with … spoiler alert … declarations of true love!

With first-time feature director Emma Holly Jones proving a capable storyteller and Suzanne Allain doing a fine job of adapting her novel of the same name, “Mr. Malcolm’s List” is set in 1818 London, with the dashing and quite wealthy Mr. Jeremiah Malcolm (Sope Dirisu) as this year’s most eligible bachelor, who is carving out a reputation for being a bit of a bounder who is cavalier about dashing the hopes of All the Single Ladies who hope to become his betrothed.

Freida Pinto, left, and Zawe Ashton in “Mr. Malcolm’s List.” (Ross Ferguson/Bleecker Street)

After Mr. Malcolm casually brushes off the semi-desperate and self-centered Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton, terrific) after just one uneventful date at the opera and Julia is humiliated by a local artist’s caricature depicting Mr. Malcolm giving her the boot, she learns from her goofball cousin Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, hilarious) that Mr. Malcolm literally has a list of traits he desires in a mate – and Julia cooks up a plan to gain her revenge. She’ll enlist the services of her kind and beautiful but QUITE POOR (the scandal!) childhood friend, Selina (Freida Pinto), to trick Mr. Malcolm into a proposal. Selina will check off all the boxes on Mr. Malcolm’s list, entrap him, and then spring the surprise that it was all a ruse. Oh, won’t Mr. Malcolm get his comeuppance then!

“Mr. Malcolm’s List” checks off a list of its own, delivering scene after scene of well-mannered, handsome people speaking in polite tones as they dance at masked balls and go horseback riding and take long Sunday walks in the park and tour art galleries. We can understand why Mr. Malcolm would immediately be taken with Selina, given she’s kind and intelligent and independent, and also, come on, she’s Freida Pinto. It takes a while longer for us to believe this judgmental stiff is the right man for her, but Dirisu does a fine job of peeling back the layers on Mr. Malcolm until we see him for the insecure but sincere and honorable man he is, and believe it or not, there’s a real chance that, scheme be damned, these two might actually fall in love with each other.

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