Despite its lack of accolades, Armando Iannucci's The Personal History of David Copperfield feels like a watershed moment for period films. Iannucci's choice to employ colour-blind casting, bolstered by a series like saucy Netflix drama Bridgerton, have shown that ignoring the trappings of white-centric casting can breath new life into a genre that felt destined to be confined to Sunday ITV television. Emma Holly Jones' Mr Malcolm's List is a delight from start to finish in this regard. Ignoring the need for white-only casts, her star studded romantic comedy offers some of the juiciest roles to date for some of the UK's best actors.
Suzanne Allain adapts her Jane Austen-esc novel about a wealthy bachelor who leaves a trail of broken hearts in his wake thanks to his list of requirements for a bride. Into this comes Julia who convinces her childhood friend Selina to woo Malcolm and then break his heart.
The story is timeless. This sort of farcical plotting could be at home in a Shakespearian comedy or in a mid-00s Lindsay Lohan vehicle. It works because the comedy is very funny, from sly post-modern jokes, to laugh-out-loud physical comedy to the romantic comedy trappings that underline most of what made British Cinema work in the 90s.
As the titular character, rising actor Sope Dìrísù shows off the kind of Mr Darcy charm that is bound to get him noticed. Not forgetting, the past few years his work across several genres – Humans, His House, Gangs of London – have also set him out as the best bet for the next Bond. Here he has just the right amount of arrogance to be aloof but also likeable.
The film offers Zawe Ashton her most interesting role since Carole Morley's Dreams of a Life ten years ago. While she's always been reliable and good, she's never been this mix of witty, brittle, difficult and funny and her scenes with Freida Pinto work brilliantly. Both women carry the film with their different personalities and outlooks.
It's actually The Invisible Man himself Oliver Jackson-Cohen who feels like the biggest revelation. Having come from three massive horror projects showing his tortured, often dark nature, it's a joy to see him play Ashton's cousin in the film, a lord with more than a little silliness about him and an aversion to horses. He brings the film's biggest laughs and carries the more plot heavy moments with a knack for looking at someone and eliciting a laugh.
Jones is often happy to let her camera sit and watch the actors. Overly editing isn't her concern, it's to fill the frame with the actors and let the scene play out and when that happens it makes the film all the more enjoyable. It's cliched for sure, but it's the sort of film that many will return to for comfort and will be discovered over and over. A truly delightful diversion.
Mr Malcolm's List will be released in UK cinemas nationwide from Friday 26th August 2022