On Sunday night, my wife and I rented Mr. Malcolm’s List, and it was delightful.
The film can only be described as a Jane-Austen-like romantic comedy of manners, set in or near the time of regency England (when Austen’s stories are set). It may seem like a slight to say the film feels like a pastiche of Pride and Prejudice and Emma, but when you’re pulling from the best works of the genre, that can hardly be a heavy critique.
The story involves an eligible young woman in high society named Julia Thistlewaite who has reached her fourth “season” of marriable age without finding a husband (gasp!). Worse yet, the most eligible bachelor around, Mr. Jeremy Malcolm (much fawned over by the entirety of polite society), seems uninterested in her advances because she fails to meet a list of qualities he’s looking for in a bride (double gasp!). So Julia enlists the reluctant help of her childhood friend (and perfect Austen heroine) Selina Dalton to try to turn the tables on Mr. Malcolm.
It all plays out just the way you’d expect, but let’s be honest: that’s why you’re watching this kind of movie.
The performances are charming, the writing is clever, and the costumes and set design are gorgeous. I found myself smiling contentedly through all of it. As far as content, the film is rated PG (just as it should be for this kind of story!) and the only objectional elements are a few rare misuses of God’s name and perhaps some concerns about modesty given the fashions of the period.
Probably the most unique element of the movie is one that is never explicitly acknowledged in the story: race-blind casting. I’ve noticed in modern adaptations of older works or in stories set in those periods that the narrative is always hyper-aware of the “race-blind” casting and comments on it in some way. In this movie, other than one moment when a character quotes an African proverb in the language of “the old country,” the issue is never brought up, which makes it so easy for the viewer to forget. This isn’t a story about people of Western-European and African and Indian and East-Asian descent; it’s just a story about people.
I would imagine some folks would complain this is a Very Serious Problem, “white-washing history,” perpetuating the “color-blind” myth, etc. I disagree; I see it as the first really good example of the “equal representation” ideal that modern storytellers pursue, and I commend the production team and filmmakers for it.
All in all, Mr. Malcolm’s List is a great movie and a lovely way to spend a few hours (especially if you’re doing so with your spouse by your side). I’m thankful that, once in a while, a new film is released that’s actually worth watching.