Director: Emma Holly Jones
Writer: Suzanne Allain
Stars: Theo James, Zawe Ashton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
It’s 1818, and “the season” is in full swing in upper-class London. The “ton” of high society is present in full force, making their way through balls, operas, dinners, teas, walks around bodies of water large and small, and even the occasional horse sale, all in the service of of one main objective: to capture a spouse, and hopefully one with a lot of money to his aristocratic name. But a lady from high society keeps going on strike, and as she enters her fifth season (her fifth of hers! Well, the breast hug!) without landing a proper husband, things are getting pretty desperate. Pretty soon, they’ll even turn downright bad.
First-time filmmaker Emma Holly Jones tells a lush, lavish and rather playful story with her “Mr. Malcolm’s List 2022,” featuring a new twist on the Regency-era romantic comedy that has kept author Jane Austen such a popular commodity for so long. Jones, however, makes almost as many missteps along the way (a losing streak, a predictable plot, and a conclusion that feels too easy) as smart choices (charming cast, wicked humor, and some genuine chemistry), keeping the movie going. to reach the upper echelon of this charming subgenre. But she, she hey she, when did the course of true love run smoothly?
Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) may be rich, pretty, and connected, but there’s a reason she’s faded away over the course of five seasons with no husband to prove it: She’s also dumb, stupid, and downright mean. Ashton is so convincing and charismatic, however, that the actress’s spirited performance is often able to mask those issues, making the film’s searing final act feel even more out of place. Julia’s search for a husband has led her to Mr. Jeremiah Malcolm (an equally charming Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù), this season’s hottest eligible bachelor. But serious Malcolm doesn’t vibe with Julia after a single unlucky date at the opera, let’s just say he’s looking for someone with brains, and when Julia flops at the political talk, it’s all over for her, but when Julia’s latest flop becomes the subject of a petty caricature circulating among London’s higher-ups, his embarrassment takes on a whole new aspect.
Basically, Julia wants revenge, or at least a chance to improve her reputation (especially if it means tarnishing Malcolm’s in the process). When her ditzy cousin Ella Lord Cassidy (an outrageously funny and well-chosen Oliver Jackson-Cohen) discovers that Malcolm has prepared a list of traits he’d like his future wife to have (and that Julia very, very much wants ). doesn’t meet his requirements), she sees an entry. That Mr. Malcolm has a list of necessities for his girlfriend is so shocking to Julia’s sensibilities (read: really, it makes sense that someone would have expectations for the person they’re destined to spend their life with, and Julia is just looking for any nick in his armor to explode from his own embarrassment) that he simply must act.
Suddenly an idea: She will plan and manipulate a way for Malcolm to meet a seemingly perfect young woman, who will then brutally pull the rug out from under him, revealing that it is Malcolm who is, in fact, not up to the task. The young woman in question? Julia’s lovely (and crushingly poor!) childhood friend Selina Dalton (Frieda Pinto) opts to go along with the plan because, er, well, let’s not worry about that particular item for too long. The scheming, petty and vicious Julia still dominates her sweet lower-class friend of hers, and while it’s pretty obvious how all of this will turn out, at least the road is full of charming and hilarious diversions.