Bridgerton Fans Need to Watch Mr. Malcolm’s List

Mr. Malcolm's List is a summer delight that brings a new perspective on its vision of an inclusive Regency era romance.

Freida Pinto in Mr Malcolm's List Review copy
Photo: Bleecker Street

The upcoming theatrical release of Mr. Malcolm’s List may appear at first glance to be a “ripoff” of Bridgerton, but the similarities in aesthetics and concept are far outweighed by their greater differences. The new movie, for one, drastically decreases romantic heat while increasing the pressure on bachelors with big egos. This article hopefully will sway Bridgerton fans to go to the theater.

Mr. Malcolm’s List of course shares some genre DNA with Bridgerton, and those elements will be the most appealing to the latter’s fans. Suzanne Allain first published Mr. Malcolm as a Regency era romance novel and she adapts it here as screenwriter, taking on the classic tropes of the Regency marriage market, high society, and social manners, and framing them with an emphasis on women’s friendships and rivalries. While family and social status still play a role in the plot, centering connections beyond family ties is what makes Mr. Malcolm’s List a successful standalone film. 

When our story begins, Mr. Jeremy Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) is described as the most eligible bachelor of the 1818 season, and he has a long list of qualities he wants his future wife to possess to prove it. Under these conditions, Mr. Malcolm agrees to take Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) to the opera—where he then dumps her. Lady Whistledown may have some witty insults in Bridgerton, but she can’t keep up with political cartoonists drawing Julia’s dating disaster. 

Afterward, Julia invites her old friend from finishing school, Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto), to London. Julia’s plan is to present Selina as “the perfect spouse” for Mr. Malcolm, all before turning the tables on him by having Selina say he missed the mark on her own list of qualities for a spouse. Selina is initially skeptical but agrees to participate in the revenge scheme. They’re also aided by Julia’s cousin Lord “Cassie” Cassidy (Oliver-Jackson-Cohen), who not only has the inside information on what qualities are on the list but also assists Julia with preparing Selina to meet Mr. Malcolm. Together, they guide this daughter of a country clergyman into the bubble of London high society.

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The cinematography, set design, and costuming of Mr. Malcolm’s List do not fully attempt to recreate Regency England, but all three elements clearly draw inspiration from Regency art. The costumes in the London scenes tend toward darker jewel tones while the dresses and suits worn in the countryside seats have brighter and earthier qualities. The women’s dresses and jackets still have the classic Regency style of the high waist but they use fewer overlays and contrast fabrics to create patterns.

This does not mean the clothes are plain, however. For example, one of Julia’s pelisses has very fine tucks along the collar and sides. The men’s suits are also toned down in terms of accessories and tailoring. In addition, the fashion draws more inspiration from the late 1810s and into 1820s, which is another distinguishing factor from Bridgerton’s blending in late 18th century court fashion with 1960s women’s dress silhouettes. Fashion fans should look out for a scene involving a fancy dress (a costume ball for Americans) where there’s a wide variety of historical fashion eras recreated.   

For Bridgerton fans who wish the humor was a bigger factor, Selina’s lessons in Mr. Malcolm’s List is the answer to your wishes. While there is pressure for Selina to be “the perfect woman,” the rapport between Julia and Selina is generally more lighthearted. Julia’s disinterest in getting back together with Mr. Malcolm coupled with Selina trying to make the most of days away from her normal routine in the countryside lowers the bar on the potential for melodrama. Julia and Selina’s friendship overcomes differences in status but their challenge is to overcome the speedbumps on the road toward completing the revenge plan. By contrast, none of Bridgerton’s female characters have friends outside of the Ton, and their friends within the Ton are often rivals during the season.

Thus there is less punching down on antagonists or those viewed as lesser in the new movie. Even the classic Regency trope of the “embarrassing relation” is softened by the circumstances of the character. Look out for Selina’s chatty Cathy cousin Gertie Covington (Ashley Park) to break out of her seemingly limited guest star role. 

Of course romance shenanigans wouldn’t work without other potential suitors attempting to cause conflicting feelings. Selina thus bumps into Lady Ossory’s nephew, Capt. Ossory (Theo James) while out with Mr. Malcolm. He’s hoping to make a connection with Selina but this is yet another potential obstacle to the plan. Capt. Ossory is not as wealthy as Mr. Malcolm, but some in society may see him as a more appropriate match for the daughter of a clergyman.

As the film introduces the major players and supporting characters in the story, it’s clear that the other major similarity Mr. Malcolm’s List shares with Bridgerton is the conscious decision to racebend its casting. The short film version of Mr. Malcolm’s List, released in February 2019 to fundraise for a feature length movie, actually predates Bridgerton’s first season and also preempted its use of racially inclusive casting, although with some different players from the finished film.

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With the exception of Cassie and Capt. Ossory, the main characters in Mr. Malcolm’s List are played by actors of color. Along with casting Doña Croll as Mr. Malcolm’s mother, the movie expands on the concept by casting supporting characters that may not match the ethnicity of the characters they are related to. Naoko Mori who many may recognize from Doctor Who and Torchwood portrays Julia’s mother Mrs. Thistlewaite. All of these casting decisions allow BIPOC viewers to fully see themselves belonging in this universe.

The dialogue largely supports this alternate universe depiction of Regency England by only mentioning historical issues in terms of Mr. Malcolm grilling potential matches. Allain’s script leaves questions about how these characters became wealthy, and the roles that racism and colonialism play in this world, largely blank. Since most of the main characters are not white, this also has the positive effect of sharply reducing the perception of either Julia or Selina as exoticized objects of desire by white male characters. Mr. Malcolm’s gaze does not carry the same perception as Anthony’s leering at Kate in Bridgerton Season 2.

While speaking with Den of Geek on the red carpet at the film’s premiere, author and screenwriter Allain said, “We’re seeing more and more [diverse films] and it’s evidence of how it really works. If [future filmmakers] can cast based on the character and how well that person can play that role, then there’s no problem with continuing to cast diversely.”

While the movie takes a far less sensual approach to Regency romance than the recent Netflix series, the natural chemistry Pinto and Dìrísù have on screen despite the hidden motives more than makes up the difference. The classic romance tropes such as an elegant masquerade ball scene, the secret touch, and the chance meeting all raise the temperature level and will result in swooning while viewing. Mr. Malcolm’s List proves there’s room in the genre for both styles of romance. 

This article won’t spill all of the spoiler tea, but Bridgerton fans will definitely not be disappointed by the plot twists. Mr. Malcolm’s List is the perfect film to fill in the long wait for the next season!

Mr. Malcolm’s List premieres in U.S. theaters July 1, 2022.

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