“I could always see myself in the shoes of all those amazing female characters,” muses Freida Pinto, describing her love of Regency-era novels written by authors like Jane Austen. “They were defying odds in their time.” Tea Slumdog Millionaire star studied English literature in college, poring over classic works and envisioning herself one day portraying such characters in adaptations on the big screen.
Now she is, in the romantic new drama Mr. Malcolm’s List, directed by first-time feature filmmaker Emma Holly Jones and costarring Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù as the titular hero. In the film, which you can get an exclusive first look at below, Dìrísù plays the dashing Mr. Malcolm, a wealthy and elegant suitor looking for a bride who meets all the qualifications he has on his list. Pinto plays Selina Dalton, a woman who helps her friend Julia Thistlewaite (the charming Zawe Ashton) get revenge on Mr. Malcolm after he rejects her for falling short of his lofty criteria.
The film is based on the book of the same name by Suzanne Allen, who it adapted into a screenplay that was given a table read by the Black List. Jones, who is married to Black List founder Franklin Leonard, heard it, fell in love with it, and decided she was going to make the movie. She began by directing a short-film version that helped her get funding for the feature, with a cast rounded out by Oliver Jackson-Cohen as the sociable Lord Cassidy; Ashley Park as the bubbly Gertie Covington, and Theo James as the debonair Captain Henry Ossory.
In a way, Jones has been preparing all her life for this. “I’m actually named after Jane Austen’s Emma,”Jones says. “I basically fell in love with period dramas from a very young age.”
While prepping Mr. Malcolm’s List, she saw hamilton on Broadway and was blown away by the musical’s inclusive cast. Jones decided she wanted to do the same on her film. As a result, both the short film and the final feature are understood largely of actors of color, much like Netflix’s Bridgerton (which Mr. Malcolm’s List predates).
That was partly what drew Dìrísù, who is British Nigerian, to the film. Previously, the actor didn’t care much for period dramas of this era, nor did he get opportunities to star in them. “There were no stories of color being told in those films,” he says. “Many young, white British actors would leave drama school and get a period drama, and that would be their route to success.” That wasn’t the case for Dìrísù, who went on to star in shows like Gangs of London and movies like His House.
However, he connected with the script for Mr. Malcolm’s List, finding it a funny, interesting departure from other work he was being offered. Jones knew the moment she met him that she had found “the new Mr. Darcy.”