It is a truth universally acknowledged — at least among those who revere the literary works of Jane Austen — that there can never be too many Regency-era romances, or cinematic adaptations of same.
Not all of them, alas, can be based on Austen’s imperishable works; after all, she completed only seven novels (one epistolary) in her 41 years.
Yet those beloved tomes have spawned a cottage industry of Austen adaptations, pastiches and updates.
There’s even a new version of Persuasion coming soon to a streaming service near you.
If you can’t wait to get lost in Austenland, however, Mr. Malcolm’s List should satisfy your expectations.
That’s apt, considering the title character’s focus on finding someone who meets his prerequisites — and his inevitable discovery that prerequisites have nothing to do with true love.
First, however, you must meet the honorable Mr. Malcolm himself, the veritable embodiment of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice observation that “a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
As the second son of an earl, Mr. Malcolm (Gangs of London’s imposing Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) inherits neither title nor fortune — from his father. Happily, a wealthy aunt’s sizable bequest has made him the most eligible bachelor of London’s 1818 season.
As such, he’s the target of myriad marriage-minded ladies, including society belle Julia Thistlewaite (saucy Zawe Ashton). One fateful night, she accompanies Mr. Malcolm to the opera — and promptly fails to entrance him. His subsequent spurning of Julia makes her the object of much gossipy derision.
Good thing Mr. Malcolm’s best friend happens to be Julia’s charming man-about-town cousin Lord Cassidy (The Invisible Man’s Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who happens to know that Mr. Malcolm has a little list of everything he requires in a wife.
Julia may be out of the running to play that role, but she’s not about to accept such repudiation without some payback.
Enter her old school chum Selina Dalton (Slumdog Millionaire’s radiant Freida Pinto), a spirited country clergyman’s daughter with, as one observer notes, “an odd kick in her gallop.” Julia invites Selina to London and sets her up as the prospective bride of Mr. Malcolm’s dreams. At which time, according to Julia’s scheme, Selina will reject him.
But, as the great Jane herself observed, “angry people are not always wise,” and Mr. Malcolm’s List has a jolly old time exploring exactly that.
Director Emma Holly Jones and screenwriter Suzanne Allain (who adapted her novel), expand on their 2019 short, adding some contemporary touches — exemplified by the movie’s diverse cast — to the time-honored template.
But Mr. Malcolm’s List also faithfully follows the established Regency-romp list, from park promenades and croquet games to masquerade balls at magnificent estates.
The appealing performers get into the spirit of things, but they can’t always compensate for their underdeveloped characters.
As a consequence, Mr. Malcolm’s List sometimes struggles to balance its high-spirited style and with its not entirely substantial substance.
Fortunately, however, it’s not a fatal flaw. Just take the advice of a member of the movie’s beau monde, who reminds us all that “thinking too deeply causes forehead furrows.” Heaven forfend.