Mr. Malcolm’s List, the latest adaptation based on Suzanne Allain‘s novel of the same name, is glorious from start to finish. Directed by Emma Holly Jones, the film beautifully and stylistically fits the likeness of remarkable features that have come before it, like Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice and Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. It’s the 19th-century period drama we’ve been waiting for and one that will be on the frequent watch list.
Starring Freida Pinto, Sope Dirisu, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Zawe Ashton, Ashley Park, Theo James, and more, Mr. Malcolm’s List intermingles humor and romance with a delightful balance. Pinto, Dirisu, Zawe, and Jackson-Cohen are standout performers who escape into their roles through stunning embodiments. While I can’t speak on whether it’s a faithful adaptation to the book since I have not read it (yet), I can say that it does what all my favorite regency romances do—it makes me feel deeply.
The story starts with a riveting ruse that leads to the kind of first meeting full of such profound emotions it’s likely to evoke butterflies for all, but particularly for those who adore the Sound of Music. The cinematography demands we pay close attention to the unlit corridors as heart bursts through from the dimly lit areas that hit in all the right ways while the actors bring something warm to the characters they play. The first meeting between Mr. Malcolm (Dirisu) and Selina Dalton (Pinto) is a sight to behold, along with every scene they share, including but not limited to their first dance and their proposal.
The chemistry between the leads is dazzling every moment they’re on screen together, and their burgeoning adoration feels believable. There’s also much that quietly develops between Julia Thistlewaite and Captain Henry Ossory (James), which sneaks up on viewers in a marvelous way. The story uses some of the best tropes throughout for both relationships without ever bordering on too much or too little as it finds an intricate way to showcase varieties. In true romance fashion, the miscommunication and reconciliation feel earned while the “slow burn” progression and quiet moments sizzle and scorch.
And yet, as much as Mr. Malcolm’s List is a gorgeous romance, it’s a story about forgiveness and friendship, highlighting the importance of looking inwards toward the uglier sides of the human mind. It’s about acceptance and growth and owning up to our mistakes in order to fight for the people we care most for.
Ashton’s Julia Thistlewaite isn’t easy to love initially, but the actress layers her with the kind of emotions that earn her a redemption that shows admirable growth. She’s a fascinating character even while she’s getting under your skin, and Ashton brings a delicious zeal to the arrogance she touches on before digging deep into the vulnerable corridors. In spite of everything, it’s easy to tell that the absence of love drives her actions, and it’s incredible to watch.
Oliver Jackson Cohen’s Lord Cassidy is a gem through and through, giving us some of the most hilarious bits in a period romance in a long, long time. There’s a softness to Lord Cassidy that stands out in a world of pompous gentlemen that’s both refreshing and wholesome, bringing to our screens the kind of character I’d watch an entire spin-off for.
Mr. Malcolm’s List is the Regency romance of the year, and the best part of what might appear to be hyperbolic praise is that the film doesn’t even try too hard. It’s effortlessly outstanding with a remarkable cast, a thoughtful screenplay, and comforting directing that feels like the right kind of escape. For those of us who are tremendous fans of period dramas, the genre isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but when it’s done right, nothing compares to the emotions that it evokes, allowing us to believe that there’s nothing greater than real true love.
Mr. Malcolm’s List is now playing in select theaters.