One woman, Ms. Julia Thistlewaite, experiences the burn from this list—she didn’t meet the politics requirement during an otherwise disastrous date at the opera. And she does not take it well, especially when the local newspaper makes a meme of her disastrous date for all the public to laugh about. To heal her bruised ego, this character played by Zawe Ashton enlists her somewhat naive childhood friend from the country, Ms. Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) in a classic scheme—Ms. Dalton will pretend to be the different things that Mr. Malcolm is looking for. She’ll read large books, pretend to play Chopin on piano (with the help of Ms. Thistlewaite’s cousin, Lord Cassidy [Oliver Jackson-Cohen]), and charm Mr. Malcolm with a hoax. And right when he declares his love for this fake version of Ms. Dalton, he’ll learn a lesson about being so picky. Things do not go according to plan.
Many directors talk about casting as being one of the most important parts of the filmmaking process, and director Emma Holly Jones certainly celebrates that here. There is no weak link or uninteresting person in this ensemble; it’s full of compelling, contrasting energies that own the era’s dialogue and polite physicality. Pinto is mighty charming in the role that has Ms. Dalton going along for the ride, but maintaining her gut instinct about love; Dirisu is equal parts charming and imperfect as his character reveals his more sensitive side; Ashton is just the right amount of frustrating as the jilted mastermind who threatens to trash everything, including her friendship, with her own vanity; Theo James, as Captain Henry Ossory, looks great with a top hat and mustache while adding another gentle complication to this movie’s strolling, PG-rated romance.
“Mr. Malcolm’s List” throws in other side characters who add little flourishes, and will likely make viewers wish this character here or there had more screen-time. I enjoyed the off-hand banter between footman John (Divian Ladwa) and maid Molly (Sianad Gregory), who get to watch the proceedings and make comments while sparking their own connection. Jackson-Cohen has an amusing part as ditzy cousin Lord Cassidy, which includes his serious fear of horses and mispronunciation of Greek philosophers. Naoko Mori oversees much of this as Mrs. Thistlewaite, giving the camera a juicy side-eye or two. And Ashley Park has a good deal of fun with colorful part as socialite Ms. Gertie Covington, in which she barrels into a few scenes and giggles at 100 mph, owning her character’s placement as being twice married and looking for round three.