Mr Malcolm’s List is a light-hearted, romantic Regency spectacle with the refreshingly novel perspective of setting a handsome, West African-heritage Duke as the object of desire.
Historical romances featuring Black protagonists, be they in TV shows like Bridgerton, Anne Boleyn or in novels like Aphrodite and the Duke, are having something of a moment across pop culture right now. Joining the trend is Mr Malcolm’s List, a period comedy feature film starring Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù in the titular role. Freida Pinto plays his love interest Selina Dalton and a wonderfully caustic and irreverent Zawe Ashton as Julia Thistlewaite, who played her role of scorned potential suitor to comedic perfection.
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Mr Malcolm is High Society’s most eligible bachelor. His £20,000 a year fortune, in 1818 London obviously goes a long way and the most ravishing ladies in London are vying desperately to catch his attention for a chance to become Mrs Malcolm. Arguably, the most promising catch of the season, Julia Thistlewaite played with aplomb by Zawe Ashton thinks she is a shoe-in for the position, but she didn’t bank on a formidable list of requirements that Mr Malcolm is measuring his potential suitors against. When she is struck off his list for seemingly “blinking too much” and perceives herself to be publicly humiliated by no longer being courted by him, she vows to exact revenge by convincing her friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) to play the role of his ideal match. An achievable task now that she has her hands on his “impossible list”.
… struck off his list for seemingly “blinking too much”
What follows is a comedic and witty romp with Mr Malcolm slowly, but surely falling for Ms Dalton, who he thinks is his perfect bride. As with all good romance narratives, there is angst. This comes in the form of Ms Dalton wresting with her feelings of deception at the conning of Mr Malcolm, but the lines are blurred as we see that she is actually being herself and not going (too much) out of her way to become the woman of his dreams, or of his list! The story continues until Mr Malcolm wonders whether he’s found the perfect woman… or the perfect hoax.
Mr Malcolm’s List is the feature debut of director Emma Holly James, who also produced the film, and is based on the bestselling book by Suzanne Allain. It is a genteel and enjoyable watch.
…the script even called on Mr Malcolm to speak Yoruba
As a Nigerian, it was heartening to see that there was no attempt to water down Mr Malcolm’s Blackness and that the role was played by the beautiful, dark-skinned Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù who is of Nigerian descent. This casting was no coincidence as the script even called on Mr Malcolm to speak Yoruba; a lovely sentiment that many Nigerians will be familiar with is the saying that: “A man who marries a woman, marries all of her relatives”, which Dìrísù recounted in pitch perfect Yoruba during the film. This commitment to the character is one of the reasons why we enjoyed this film so much.
Mr Malcolm’s List is in UK cinemas from Friday 26 August 2022.