Home > Reviews > MR. MALCOLM’S LIST – Amelia Warner

MR. MALCOLM’S LIST – Amelia Warner

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Mr. Malcolm’s List is a new British period comedy-drama directed by Emma Holly Jones and written by Suzanne Allain, based on her novel of the same name. It stars Freida Pinto, Sope Dirisu, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ashley Park, Zawe Ashton, and Theo James. It’s one of those typically genteel ‘comedy of manners’ stories, and in this instance follows a young woman in 1800s England named Selina Dalton (Pinto), who agrees to help her friend Julia Thistlewaite (Ashton) get revenge on a suitor – the titular Mr. Jeremiah Malcolm (Dirisu), London’s most eligible bachelor – who rejected her for failing a ‘requirement’ on his list of qualifications for a potential bride. The revenge comes by way of a long con, wherein Selina pretends to be his perfect woman… but then Selina begins to fall for Malcolm for real, leading her to wonder whether she should continue with the hoax. The story is all very much in the broadest Jane Austen tradition, with perhaps a little bit of influence from the more contemporary Bridgerton TV series, and has been a reasonable box office success on both sides of the Atlantic.

The score for Mr. Malcolm’s List is by the excellent British composer Amelia Warner who, since she switched her career focus from acting to music five or six years ago, has now written a handful of outstanding scores, including Mary Shelley in 2018, and Wild Mountain Thyme in 2020. Mr. Malcolm’s List is another one to add to her growing collection of impressive works; in many ways, it feels like Warner is becoming the heir apparent to Rachel Portman in the British film industry, both in terms of how she is increasingly specializing on period romantic dramas and comedies, and in terms of how her music has that immediately recognizable ‘BBC costume drama’ sound, which is more often than not filled with lush melodies, memorable themes, and warmly appealing orchestrations that recall the great English classical composers of the early twentieth century. What Warner does, however, is blend that with hints of contemporary electronics and subtle synths, which allows her music to exist in that pleasant middle ground bridging the two time periods.

The score for Mr. Malcolm’s List is mostly orchestral, with a primary focus in the classic strings-woodwind-piano trio, with occasional brass and occasional electronic sounds used to flesh out the palette. The opening “Overture” is an absolute delight, opening with a forceful and strident piece full of drive and purposeful movement; I especially love the fluttering, twittering woodwind accents that dart all around the piece, giving it a playful and elegant sound. These woodwind quivers are a recurring texture throughout much of the score, ensuring that the underlying comedy and the mischievous battle-of-the-sexes part of Selina’s revenge plot remains on the lighter side; later cues like “A Plan is Hatched” and “Croquet,” are just delightful, and often have waltz-time rhythms playing through them, as if the music is a courtship dance.

A sense of pompous and mock-serious Englishness runs through cues like “Quite the Reputation,” commenting on the character of Mr. Malcolm and his self-aggrandized opinion of himself and his status in London society. This is counterbalanced by the lovely, warm, attractive piano and cello writing that characterizes the theme for “Selina,” as well as the sentimental and romantic magic that occurs when their two themes come together later in the lovely “Malcolm and Selina,” and especially the dreamily rapturous “Proposal”.

Other cues of note include the sweeping “Arriving at Hadley Hall,” the tender “A Gift of Friendship,” the thoughtful and elegantly downbeat “Julia Discovered,” and the appropriately titled “Heartbreak”. The woodwind textures here are, again, just beautiful – listen to “Julia and Selena Make Up” and its unexpectedly soulful bassoon part – and there is also some more slow and contemplative writing for piano and cello in a series of gorgeous duets. The recurring main theme motif weaves prettily through the whole thing, and lead up to the conclusive “The Chase,” which is one final burst of sprightly energy that recalls the pretty prancing ideas from the opening cue, before moving into a sequence that features a more fulsome brass element amid a bank of rumbling timpani, and ends the score on a satisfying high.

This is a short, sweet, but wholesome and charming score which, yet again, underscores Amelia Warner’s status as one of the best up-and-coming British composers, and reinforces her win for IFMCA Breakthrough Composer of the Year in 2019. Fans of the British costume drama sound generally, and of Rachel Portman specifically, will get the most out of Mr. Malcolm’s List, but I’m hoping it has a broader appeal too – in a landscape far too often dominated by sonic wallpaper and overbearing bombastic noise, there should be room for lightness, elegance, whimsy, and romantic emotion too; Amelia Warner provides all that here.

Buy the Mr. Malcolm’s List soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (1:03)
  • Quite the Reputation (1:15)
  • Selina (0:48)
  • Malcolm and Selina (1:20)
  • A Plan is Hatched (1:27)
  • Arriving at Hadley Hall (2:38)
  • A Gift of Friendship? (1:33)
  • A Trustworthy Gentleman (0:37)
  • Selina Arrives in London (1:45)
  • Julia Discovered (2:07)
  • Croquet (2:14)
  • The First Meeting (0:54)
  • A Forgiving Nature (0:53)
  • Proposal (3:57)
  • Oh Henry (1:04)
  • Heartbreak (0:41)
  • Julia and Selina Make Up (1:42)
  • The Chase (2:07)

Running Time: 28 minutes 05 seconds

Lakeshore Records (2022)

Music composed by Amelia Warner. Orchestrations by Sam Thompson and Amy Summers. Recorded and mixed by Olga Fitzroy. Edited by Andy Patterson. Album produced by Amelia Warner and Sam Thompson.

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