Publication Date: March 2, 2009
About the Author: Suzanne Allain is a novelist as well as a screenwriter. She cites her influences as Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and P.G. Wodehouse.
About the Story: Published originally in 2009, the book Mr. Malcolm’s List was released as a motion picture in 2022.
MY REVIEW OF THE BOOK
When Julia Thistlewaite is spurned by the fastidious Mr. Malcolm for not meeting the requirements on his list for a prospective bride, she concocts a plan to turn the tables. Inviting her friend Selina Dalton to London, Julia plans for Selina to entrance Mr. Malcolm…and then throw him over when he does not meet the requirements on her list. Aided by her reluctant cousin Lord Cassidy, Julia selfishly overcomes Selina’s scruples and contrives to throw her friend together with her nemesis.
When Mr. Jeremy Malcolm meets Selina Dalton, he is smitten by her appearance, her charm, and her pleasant conversation. When his friend Captain Ossory shows interest as well, a sense of competition spurs Mr. Malcolm on. As he begins to court Selina, he discovers that she miraculously meets all the requirements on his list. (There was a concerning episode where a vulgar relation shows up, but since Julia Thistlewaite claims that the cousin is hers, disaster is avoided…) Inviting Selina and her parents to his palatial estate, Mr. Malcolm decides to propose. But even though Selina would like to jettison her friend’s scheme and accept the proposal, Julia contrives that Mr. Malcolm should receive his comeuppance…
This book is not a Regency romance. It is a Regency spoof. If you go into it looking for romance, you will be disappointed. The characters are all treated ironically by the author, and Mr. Malcolm is not a likeable hero. The eccentric characters and comedic situations are what produce the hilarity, and the scene where Mr. Malcolm and Selina are locked into the conservatory together is over-the-top ridiculous. It is more P.G. Wodehouse than Jane Austen; however, the short sentences and simple vocabulary felt more like reading a YA book, so it misses some of the linguistic charm than an actual Wodehouse title would have.
Keep reading to see how the movie stacks up….
MY REVIEW OF THE MOVIE
The movie of Mr. Malcolm’s List follows generally all the same plot points as the book, except for removing some of the more outrageous scenes and trimming down the ending. But here is the major difference: the movie tries to be an actual romance and not a spoof.
This is difficult because the characters are, for the most part, wooden as Noah’s Ark. Selina Dalton has a delightful accent and a little spark, but she doesn’t stand a chance next to the stoic Mr. Malcolm (who doesn’t have a flirtatious bone in his body). The characters don’t quite have the timing down with their banter and, for whatever reason, the film editors decided not to support the drawing room scenes with incidental music (imagine the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma and the way music enhances the conversation with Harriet and the Eltons…). This makes roughly half the conversation in this movie painfully awkward. Lord Cassidy ends up being a poorly done cipher of Bertie Wooster, and the “vulgar relation” misses every beat, making us feel more sympathy for the movie in general than for Selina. Other secondary characters (Mr. Malcolm’s mother, Selina’s parents) who are endearing in the book have short and awkward appearances in the film, making you wonder why they were not cut from the film altogether.
The most convincing and sympathetic character is actually Julia Thistlewaite. Instead of being a selfish brat like she is in the book, she is depicted as a woman with sensitive feelings, striking out at Mr. Malcolm to make up for her own insecurities. The secondary romance between Julia and Captain Ossory actually has some chemistry to it, and one wishes that the entire movie could have been about them instead of about the tedious Mr. Malcolm.
So, the main takeaway is: don’t judge the book by the movie. If you watched the movie and deplored it, you might actually enjoy the lighthearted comedy that is the book.
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