MR. MALCOLM’S LIST (2022)

June 30, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. At this point, I believe it’s fair to say we have a Jane Austen sub-genre for film, TV, and books. After all, it’s been more than 200 years, and her novels have remained in print, have also been adapted too many times to count, and inspired countless writers and filmmakers to follow in her footsteps. The success of the “Bridgerton” series is a testament to the Jane Austen realm, despite being adapted from the novels of Julia Quinn. For this first feature film from director Emma Holly Jones, Suzanne Allain has adapted the screenplay from her own novel, and interestingly, this is a feature length version of Ms. Jones’ 2019 short film, with most of the cast and crew returning.

The film opens in 1802 England as youngsters Julia and Selina solidify their BFF bond. Flashing forward to a majestic castle in 1818, we find it’s mating season for high society, and Julia (Zawe Ashton) has her sights set on the catch-of-the-year, Mr. Jeremy Malcolm (Sope Dirisu). Their first date to the opera tells Malcolm everything he needs to know to rule out Julia as a prospective match. Her ignorance on current affairs and overall personality prevent any type of love connection. Though her feelings are hurt at the rejection, Julia likely would have moved on if not for a public humiliation related to the date, but not caused by Malcolm. When Julia discloses her embarrassment to her cousin, Lord Cassidy (an excellent Oliver Jackson-Cohen), he confides that Malcolm has crafted a list of requirements for his future bride. Instantly, Julia begins scheming to turn the tables of ‘humiliation’ on Malcolm, hoping to regain her reputation … one tarnished by four previous seasons without a match.

Julia’s scheme requires two co-conspirators. Lord Cassidy has already been bullied into the ring, and next up is her childhood friend, Selina (Freida Pinto). Selina is of a lower class than Julia, and against her better judgement (and sweet demeanor) agrees to the plan: playing the role of the perfect match for Malcolm before humiliating him by exposing his ‘list’. Of course, anyone who has ever watched a movie or read a book knows where this is headed … and that’s exactly where it goes. Selina and Malcolm do prove to be a good match, and she is overwhelmed by guilt.

Like Mr. Malcolm, I have a list … only my list is for the issues I have with the film:

  1. Julia is neither smart nor nice, and would be a poor match for most men
  2. Her plot for revenge proves her mean streak, as Malcolm never publicly humiliated her
  3. Malcolm has good looks and lots of money, but otherwise doesn’t seem like much fun
  4. Selina is smart, but we never see why she falls for Malcolm – other than his looks and money
  5. Selina seems too nice to ever go along with Julia’s devious plan against a guy who did nothing wrong
  6. The twist with Captain Henry Ossory is totally unbelievable and fabricated strictly for a happy ending
  7. The cast diversity plays like a gimmick and totally ignores genetics. There are more legitimate ways to achieve diversity

My list is longer than Mr. Malcolm’s, but you get the point on why the film didn’t work for me. Julia is unlucky in love because she is not likable, and Mr. Malcolm is a bit dull, and is only a “catch” because of looks and money. We never care about either of these characters. And shouldn’t everyone have a ‘list’ of characteristics they desire in a mate? It’s probably for all these reasons that I found the movie uncomfortable to watch and entirely too long. That said, the cast is superb and the performances are admirable in spite the issues I have with the script and story. Many viewers will likely ignore what bugged me here, and I contend the best of the recent entries in this genre continues to be EMMA. (2020)

Opens in theaters on July 1, 2022

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MOTHERING SUNDAY (2022)

April 8, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Every writer has a story about what inspired them to put words on the page. What we have here is Eva Husson directing a script from Alice Birch (LADY MACBETH, 2016) who has adapted the 2016 novella from British author Graham Swift. We follow Jane Fairchild through three stages, as her work as a maidservant allows her to become “an occupational observer of life.”

It’s Mothers’ Day 1924 and Jane (Odessa Young, SHIRLEY, 2020) is anticipating her latest romantic tryst with Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor, EMMA., 2020). Both know this is their final time together, and they take full advantage. Jane’s employers, Godfrey and Clarrie Niven, are meeting Paul’s parents for a celebratory luncheon with Emma (Emma D’Arcy), the ‘proper’ woman Paul is to marry. Oscar winner Colin Firth (THE KING’S SPEECH, 2010) and Oscar winner Oliva Colman (THE FAVOURITE, 2018) play the Nivens, and deaths from WWI hang over all of these families like the darkest of clouds.

The story is told in non-linear fashion, with Jane and Paul’s final lovemaking session being that which all other events seem to revolve. We also spend some time with Jane in her 40’s as she is living with her philosopher husband Donald (Sope Dirisu), and then in her 80’s as she is celebrated as a renowned and prize-winning author. In this last stage, Jane is surprisingly played by the great Glenda Jackson, a two-time Oscar winner (A TOUCH OF CLASS, 1973, and WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969), who has only appeared in a handful of TV movies these past thirty years. Ms. Jackson turns 86 next month, and spent time as an elected member of Parliament. She’s always been an interesting person, and it’s terrific to see her back on the big screen – even if she only gets a couple of brief scenes followed by one substantial one near the end.

It’s a beautiful film and it’s sensuously photographed, though maybe a bit odd in that it focuses so diligently on the visuals (thanks to cinematographer Jamie D Ramsay), while actually following a woman’s journey into writing. Love (or lack of it) and grief and life’s transitions are all on display, as are the harsh realities of class differences. Ms. Young and Mr. O’Connor are both terrific, and though she has minimal screen time, we are stunned again at just how much emotion Ms. Colman can convey with her face.

Memories and recollections of “that day” play a crucial role as the mature Jane wrestles with writing her novel … one that her publisher expects to be a thriller. Of course, we watch as Jane’s story plays out, so we know where her writing is headed. The film has a vagueness to its storytelling that prevents us from ever fully engaging with Jane or any of the rich, sad people, yet it’s such a beautiful film to look at that we never seem to mind.

In theaters on April 8, 2022

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