Mr Malcolm’s List (PG)

Director: Emma Holly Jones

Starring: Freida Pinto, Sope Dirisu, Zawe Ashton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Theo James and Gemma Chan

In cinemas

117 mins


In Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard made an outer space sci-fi adventure on location in black and white, sixties Paris. The film invited viewers to accept that it was a futuristic dystopian metropolis and that when he showed them a taxi ride they were actually seeing an intergalactic rocket journey. A present-day equivalent is found in the regimentation of colourblind casting in period dramas; like Godard, it challenges a viewer’s knee-jerk dependence on the reality of the image on the screen. We are forced to disbelieve our own eyes, to look beyond what is in front of us.

Mr Malcolm’s List, a multicultural Jane Austin Regency rom-com pastiche/ homage, pushes the concept even further: it demands that we ignore the entreaties of our eyes and ears in all matters. Not just in characters' ethnicity, but their ages, the dialogue they speak and almost every aspect of their behaviour. We must accept that people are charming even though there is no evidence for it; that dialogue will flip, often midsentence from contemporary slang to Regency formality; that Pinto is a virginal cleric’s daughter even though she is clearly pregnant. Probably the costumes and array of National Trust properties it was filmed on are authentic but everything else is debatable. Even the weather is suspect.

Based on a novel by Suzanne Allain, the plot revolves around a very eligible bachelor Mr Malcolm (Dirisu) who wants to marry for love and has a strict list of criteria that his bride must fulfil. After Julie (Ashton) suffers public humiliation when he rejects her over a faux pas in her Corn Law small talk, she enlists the help of her childhood friend Selina (Pinto) in a scheme to get revenge. But then Selina meets Malcolm, dot, dot, dot.

Instinctively, you may go looking for an agenda but the film seems to have been made out of affection and love. It’s the same old ground covered by new faces who are unable to bring any charm or sparkle to it. There is a reason why costume dramas are the preserve of Keira Knightley and dames of the RSC: stiffness and being stuck up come naturally to them, everybody else has to work at it. And really, why would you bother?

Her Way (18)

Director: Cécile Ducrocq

Starring: Laure Calamy, Nissim Renard, Beatrice Facquer, Romain Brau and Sam Louwyck

In French with subtitles

97 mins


Actually, Une Femme Du Monde. The original French title isn’t any great shakes but is surely better than Her Way, which just doesn’t do it. This is a socio-economic study of a single parent Marie (Calamy) struggling to make ends meet working as a self-employed service provider in the gig economy; campaigning for improved rights and working conditions and embittered because undercutting foreign workers have driven down the going rate. You may not be entirely surprised to learn she is a sex worker – though she prefers the oldfangled term prostitute – because that is the only area of exploitation that the movies really understand.

Marie is strident and unashamed about her line of work but after her teenage son Adrien (Renard) is expelled, she sees an expensive private cookery school as the only way to save him. But how to get the fees? Calamy is engagingly stroppy in the main role but the script is neither subtle or compelling. Characters have abrupt personality changes, the narrative has melodramatic bursts that undermine the film’s realism and offers resolutions that seem unearned. It also chooses to omit any backstory which makes Marie a less convincing character.

Official Competition (15)

Director: Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn

Starring: Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez, Irene Escolar and Jose Luis Gomez

In Cinema and Curzon Home Cinema

115 mins


On his 80th birthday, a millionaire, Suarez (Gomez), decides he needs something to be remembered by. His first choice is building a bridge before deciding to go with making a movie. He hires a celebrated, eccentric director (Cruz) and buys her a novel by a Nobel Prize winner about brotherly rivalry. To play the two actors she hires a big movie star (Banderas) and a celebrated thespian (Martinez); because she wants “to explore the tension between them”. The three meet up in the modernist sprawl of the Suarez Foundation to rehearse.

Duprat and Cohn’s film has superb performances, some inspired visual gags and they make striking use of the Teatro Auditorio San Lorenzo where the bulk of it was shot. The pretensions, insecurities and absurdities of movie making and acting are easy targets but, initially, this is interestingly ambiguous: the actors are vain and shallow, the director is ridiculously demanding, but the work they produce is impressive. Then halfway through Cruz’s character pulls an over-the-top prank that destroys its credibility. Something that subtly both ridiculed and celebrated the process of cinema and creativity, becomes a knockabout cartoon.

Visit for a review of the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of The Big Chill.