Checking Off Mr. Malcolm’s List (2022)

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While it was only in theaters for a hot second, Mr. Malcolm’s List (2022) is now available for online rental, making it a lot easier for me to review. And it’s exactly the palate cleanser I needed after having forced myself to watch that Netflix Persuasion. This Regency romance is everything that one is not — light, charming, witty, engaging, fun, and a perfectly pleasant diversion for a couple hours. There’s no dumb anachronisms, no modern gimmicks to be “relatable,” and no talking down to the audience.

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

But there are some hair quibbles!

Is Mr. Malcolm’s List predictable? Yep. It’s a period rom-com, so the plot is pretty standard-issue. But what makes it quite enjoyable are the characterizations and actors creating them. Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) eating trifle and the chatter between her and her mom (Naoko Mori).

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Mrs. Thistlewaite

Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) with his masquerade costume and his fear of horses. Selina’s adorable mom (Dawn Bradfield) being such a mom. The footman, John (Divian Ladwa), subtly stealing every scene and not just with his over-the-top wig.

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

John

All of these characters feel so real, they’re well fleshed out, they aren’t one-note, and they’re enjoyable to watch. They have little quirks, and their relationships feel genuine. There’s solid chemistry between the actors, and not just the romantic leads; the friendships and parental relationships have good chemistry behind them as well. All of this makes it feel like an old-fashioned Austen frock flick of solid quality.

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Of course, what makes this story stand out is that it has two people of color as the leads, and I can’t think of many other period romances that do so, especially both being not enslaved (something like Roots doesn’t count as a “romance” IMO). Anyone who wants to whine about this not being historically accurate can go fuck right off, and I’ll be deleting comments that complain about it being “politically correct” casting or such like. That sort of talk just shows that some people have a limited view of history — the view written only by white people. Most societies have been a lot more multicultural for a lot longer than certainly movies and TV shows have depicted. And when it comes to something like a romance story, it is absolutely true that two not enslaved, not poor people of color could find love! So why not show that onscreen? It’s fun, it’s sweet, and get over yourself if you have some weird problem with the skin color of the actors.

Director Emma Holly Jones told the Hollywood Reporter:

“I wanted to create a film that gave lots of young brown and Black girls around the world the ability to have their own Jane Austen film, whether it is Jane Austen or not. I think it’s awful that so many people just in the genre rom-com as a whole barely have movies, regardless of the time period.”

A-fucking-men!

She and her production team did a lot of research for the film, and she pointed out:

“I think that really big shocking thing to me — especially visiting the amount of art galleries I did and the amount of historians I spoke to — was just how much Hollywood had whitewashed, specifically, England’s past.”

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Zawe Ashton, who plays Julia, said in Ebony:

“I grew up reading Jane Austen, and I grew up reading the classics and never did I not see myself in them. It was only when they started to get made into films that I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I’m not so much here as I am in my imagination.’ And that’s always been a really sad fact, from my perspective, not only as an avid reader, but as an actor, too. It’s always felt like the strangest thing not to be invited to that table. And so, I just feel my best as an actor when I’m resonating not only with the creative material, but when there is an intentionality — or a needle — moving element to the work that I’m doing.”

In that same Ebony interview, Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, who plays Mr. Malcolm, noted:

“I had done historical pieces before, but [I had] always played a character who had been affected by colonialism. Either they were a former slave [like] in The Mill, one of my first TV projects, or they experienced a lot of racism like in The Halcyon, another one of my TV projects. So the opportunity to play someone who was not burdened by oppressive whiteness was a joy. My goodness, it was a joy.”

This film is joyful, and it feels playful. This isn’t a particularly deep movie, nothing earth-shaking in the plot, but solid acting and good production values make it a worthwhile entertainment while also being a step forward in representation.

So on to the costumes. I’m guessing the budget was modest and mostly spent on the locations, which are fantastic. Filmed in Ireland at several gorgeous country houses, Mr. Malcolm’s List looks like a classic Austen film overall, and the costumes fit in rather well. This isn’t a fantasy soap-opera world of the Regency like Bridgerton — the story is rather traditional and so are the costumes for the 1818 setting. Costume designer Pam Downe (The Spanish Princess, 2020, Interlude in Prague, 2017) used her research and budget well, focusing on classic period styles. In one interview, she explained:

“While I was doing my online museum research, I was delighted to find a number of paintings of Black men in society. There were many of them. It was quite interesting finding out about all these amazing characters. They provided a lot of my references for Mr. Malcolm’s looks.”

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Mr. Malcolm

Downe also realized, through research, that the little white dresses cliche for the Regency wasn’t required:

“That gave me the freedom to use more sumptuous, structured silks, which gave us a stronger silhouette and seemed a bit more interesting.”

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Julia Thistlewaite

The two main women has different color palettes. For London-based Julia, “the palette was a bit cooler. Julia’s frocks were often purples and mauves,” while for country girl Selina “there are lots of warm, rustic colors.”

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Selina Dalton

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Selina Dalton

Julia also has some fantastic hats, which is particularly good to see since recent 1810s period productions have been so anti-hat. There’s even a minor plot point around Selina’s crappy “country” bonnet getting an upgrade, thanks to her friend.

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

LOVE this hat. The spencer jacket is nice too.

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Excellent trimmings on this hat.

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Beautifully paired with this velvet pelisse coat.

Director Emma Holly Jones explained that both the costume and hair designers pointed out how the production could incorporate some of the characters’ and actors’ culture into the film. Hair designer Eileen Buggy looked at different afros with Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, and the team decided on dreadlocks instead of a wig for Doña Croll, who plays Mr. Malcolm’s mother, Lady Kilbourne. Jones said:

“When Doña came in, I was like, ‘I just don’t want to put a wig on her.’ I love her hair. So it was how do we turn Doña’s hair into period hair?’ If I had just shoved a wig on her it would have looked like I shoved a wig on her.”

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Lady Kilbourne

Of course, not all the hair is as successful, IMO. While these natural hairstyles blend effortlessly into the period style as what Black people would have worn in the 1810s, Julia’s blunt bangs stick out as a modern style when Regency bangs were done rather differently. Worse though is the cliche of “country bumpkin” Selina wearing her hair down fairly often, including at formal events like a ball. Sophisticated Julia always has her hair up, except a few times at home with only her mom and Selina around. But Selina goes out in public half the time with her hair up and half the time with it down. Bleh.

One last costume worth noting is Mrs. Covington, a relation of Selina’s, who has a minor plot point and her outfit stands out in a way that reflects her character standing out.

Mr. Malcolm's List (2022)

Gertie Covington

 

 

Have you seen Mr. Malcolm’s List yet?

26 Responses

  1. susan

    Very happy to read this positive review! Just last night I stopped briefly to have a look as I scrolled through viewing possibilities. I was afraid it might be more Bridgerton crap. So thank you. I’ll have a watch. And is it in the wake of Downton Abbey that all these shows have to be set in places ending in “ton” (which actually is Old English for an enclosure = town). But wait! Just looked it up in relation to the Regency period: it refers to high society! Now I get it!

    Reply
  2. Guest

    I haven’t seen this yet, but the costumes look beautiful! (except for that cold shoulder thing in the mask picture, what’s that about? I like the hair though, with the ribbon)
    It’s on my watch list

    I’d also recommend asian productions for period dramas with actors of colour, India, China, Korea, all produces lots and lots of period dramas, often romantic ones, and the Indian/Bollywood movies has sometimes English as the spoken language if subtitles is a trouble.
    Though I get that it’s not the same as a western production doing it, for representation, so having both is good:)

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      The ‘cold shoulder’ outfit is a masquerade costume — Greek goddess so accurate-ish ;)

      And yes, English-language period romances with people of color as the leads — that’s what rare here, unfortunately.

      Reply
  3. mara vaugj

    It could be set in an alternate history universe, if you want to consider it like that.

    Reply
  4. Roxana

    That is true. People like Dido Belle were outliers and certainly not accepted in society. Erasing historical racism is not IMO a Good Thing.
    On the other hand Regency Romance is basically a fantasy genre and as such I am willing to accept an imaginary multi-cultural England.

    Reply
  5. Leigh

    Seeing this in theater was a little treat to myself and it was a delight. Properly done and a new story (as much as I love dear Jane).

    Reply
  6. Roxana

    I’m not entirely comfortable with erasing racism in the past but regency romance is basically a fantasy genre anyway so I can suspend disbelief.

    Reply
    • Luanna

      There were some well-off PoC in that time period, and even people telling stories about them. Jane Austen notably mentions a mixed-race heiress with a fortune of £100,000 in her unfinished novel Sanditon. And I recently discovered a fascinating book called The Woman of Colour, where a wealthy mixed-race heiress is actually the main character. It was written in 1808.

      What’s striking about the real-life examples though, and the fictional examples written in the period, is that they’re isolated. They’re not living in a happily inclusive world with lots of people like them. They’re living in a world where they’d more often that not walk into a room filled with high-society folks and not see another face that looks like theirs.

      And IDK, I do feel that’s an important part of the story. That shaped who these people were. We SHOULD reflect the fact that there were wealthy and successful PoC in that time period, but I think you have to portray the context around them for what it was. If you just make Regency high society a happy melting pot where there are tons of PoC and no one even notices or cares about race, I think you deny the real struggles that existed historically, even for PoC who DID have money and position.

      Reply
      • Trystan L. Bass

        Why not have some stories with POC that are just happy — where the struggle is “will they find love?” instead of always being a struggle about race? There are already plenty of filmed stories that deal with racism & just racism; that’s not being denied. But there are precious few that celebrate people of color in historical contexts finding love & satisfaction. We need to see all of this onscreen, not just Serious Biznez.

        Reply
        • Luanna

          I don’t disagree! I think there absolutely can and should be happy stories about finding love with those characters. But I think that can be done while reflecting the reality of what the world around them looked like.

          Reply
        • Luanna

          (That said, all of this is just my personal thoughts, and there are certainly other valid philosophies about how to tell these stories.)

          Reply
        • Saraquill

          That is a good chunk of why I like the anime “Yasuke.” I don’t care it’s more science fantasy than biography. It was satisfying seeing a Black character be a fully realized character and protagonist to boot? YES

          Reply
  7. hsc

    When I saw the shot above of Naoko Mori as Mrs. Thistlewaite, I knew her face and name seemed familiar from something I’d regularly watched. I was surprised to find out she had a recurring guest role in the first run of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS as Saffy’s bespectacled school friend Sarah, who Patsy and Edina were always so rude to!

    I suppose Mori was cast back when Constance Wu (CRAZY RICH ASIANS) was scheduled to replace Gemma Chan, the original Julia from the short film. I’m sorry Wu didn’t make it into the film, because she’s a local gal and her Dad is a professor at the same university I work for!

    Also, director Emma Holly Jones originally seemed rather invested in portraying Julia as “British-Chinese in 1818,” and mentioned the research she’d done in presenting the character accurately for the period as a woman of Chinese heritage living in Regency England.

    Zawe Ashton is lovely and a skilled actress, though, so I’m sure she does equally well with the role, perhaps even better. I just wish they’d given her different hairstyling instead of those distracting modern bangs, because nearly everything else I see here looks so good!

    Reply
  8. M.E. Lawrence

    OMG, Mrs. Covington! That bonnet/whatever! The muted colors that somehow dazzle–a real design skill. I like it when a character isn’t overwhelmed by her beautiful outfit (or his).

    Reply
  9. Colleen

    I have actually wanted to see this, so I’m happy to read that it’s not totally crap.

    Reply
  10. Kat

    I can’t wait to see this, however I’m on the fence about Ashley Park as Gertie; I saw a tweet summing up why certain actors have the wrong sort of face for period pictures and she falls in that camp for me – tl;dr Ashley Park, though gorgeous, definitely has the face of someone who knows what texting is.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      “,,,definitely has the face of someone who knows what texting is.” Well put; I know that feeling, even though I don’t agree about Park’s face.

      Reply
  11. Saraquill

    In college, I had a part in the drama club’s “The Crucible,” which featured race-blind casting. My now ex was quick to say a real production would do no such thing. It would be nice to rub his nose in this and “Bridgerton.”

    Reply
    • Roxana

      I’m definitely open to race blind casting, at least for fiction. Actors of color are otherwise unfairly limited in their potential roles.

      Reply
  12. Nzie

    Glad to hear it’s enjoyable! I agree with others that it’s important not to obscure historical racism. But in addition to thinking that can be done in aggregate, this is clearly fictional and a romance movie, and the characters can be ably portrayed by anyone–as has always been true. Considering the history of casting white actors to play characters of color with make-up (and often stereotyping, degrading characterizations), I am happy to see this as a corrective. I was hoping to get to the cinema but missed it–so I’m glad it’s available to rent soon and I intend to watch it.

    Reply
  13. Byzant

    Oh gosh now I’m super exited pretty people in lovely settings is just what’s needed and everyone looks gorgeous

    Reply
  14. Damnitz

    It’s not in the cinemas in Germany yet. I will check it. As a fan of the regency the photos and trailers didn’t made an impressive impression. It’s looking more to me like a TV-production. I loved that “Emma” from 2020 had a more unique style although I saw some weaknesses in the men’s hairstyle etc..
    Nevertheless I will give the movie a chance – especially because I love to be in a cinema and to look period dramas there (even if it is in the smallest room of the cinema).

    Reply

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