‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ is a Familiar Story, with a Refreshing Twist (Review)

The latest British period drama is the rare film whose romantic leads, Freida Pinto and Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, are both people of color — but is it enough?

Ishani Nath

June 20, 2022

‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ is a Familiar Story, with a Refreshing Twist (Review)
Freida Pinto and Sope Dirisu in 'Mr. Malcolm's List' (Bleecker Street)

Everyone is talking about Mr. Malcolm. 

The “devastatingly handsome” honorable, the term used for the younger son of an earl, has been denoted the most eligible bachelor of London’s 1818 season. As he struts into the opera, wearing a dapper cape and top hat, women look him up and down with lust. This communal thirst is due to his many advertised qualities: social status, a sizable inheritance, and a large estate, not to mention his smoldering good looks. Mr. Malcolm, we soon learn, has a secret list of requirements he’s seeking in a potential bride, and so far, no one has passed his test. Enter Selina Dalton — who has a secret of her own.

The premise of unlikely lovers brought together under false pretenses is familiar and could double for any number of romance stories. The film, which hits theaters on July 1, also has all the hallmarks of the beloved genre that has recently exploded in popularity. Tantalizing gossip, heaving bosoms, and flirtatious croquet abound. But what sets Mr. Malcolm’s List apart from the rest is the lovers themselves and its biting humor.

British period dramas have historically featured all-white casts and all-white love stories. But from Dev Patel in The Personal History of David Copperfield to the upcoming adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion starring Henry Golding, the face of the genre is now slowly but surely changing. Mr. Malcolm’s List, based on Suzanne Allain’s bestselling book of the same name, is the latest film to take a more inclusive approach. And unlike contemporaries, the romance that unfolds is between two people of color: Mr. Malcolm, played by Gangs of London’s Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, and Selina Dalton, played by Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto. Black and South Asian couples are rare on screen, making it easy to root for this movie, but the refreshing casting alone is not enough to make this a must-watch.