To some, the casting of this Austen-like film is reflective of the so-called “Bridgerton-effect” in which a diverse group of actors lead a period piece. Other examples include The Personal History of David Copperfield or the currently running, “The Gilded Age.” Yet, what the critical community and more ignorant crowd of the film and television industry have failed to notice is the theater’s spearheading of this vision. That’s not to say the American or British theater have been some sort of shining example in the line of equitable casting. On the contrary, every entertainment establishment in the US has had to review and reconsider their policies and biases within the casting process. Still, the suggestion that Bridgerton originated this idea is fiction – it has only popularized a practice which should be the baseline.
At first, Malcolm’s List lacks the charm and pace of a period outing. The characters are rather muted and the cuts are slow, indicating a sort of warm up phase for director Emma Holly Jones. Once Selina (a marvelous Freida Pinto) is brought into the game, the intrigue begins. As Julia, Zawe Ashton manages to draw ire, pity and admiration in a complicated and complex arc. Oliver Jackson-Cohen again shows off his chameleon skills in a comedic turn far off from his roles in Netflix’s “The Haunting” series, and Theo James is strong as The Captain. Sope Dirisu is an actor of great specificity and depth – just look to his chilling performance in His House – and he does not disappoint here as Malcolm (I would love to see him as Mr. Darcy). The scenes between him and his mother, an effective Doña Croll, are memorable and moving.
Pam Downe and Ray Ball’s one-two punch of costume and production design stand out with vibrancy. Tony Miller’s camera work settles for stable framings. It could use more creativity but it works. Amelia Warner’s music is lovely and playful, always adding a layer of innocent wanting. Here is one of her selections:
All in all, Mr. Malcolm’s List is a fine entry into the genre. Its dialogue is crisp and effective, its world is well thought out and the story takes some unexpected turns even while arriving at a familiar destination. The gossip culture which prevails in Bridgerton is proven narrow here, allowing for honesty and personal connections to break through. There is always more to mine within this genre and I hope as casting expands so too do the stories and perspectives.
Mr. Malcolm’s List is now playing in Theaters