Books

Mr. Malcolm’s List Author Suzanne Allain on the Regency Romance’s Journey From Script to Screen

From director Emma Holly Jones and writer Suzanne Allain (based on her book of the same name), Mr. Malcolm’s List is a rom-com with so many familiar genre trappings — only it happens to be set in 1800s England, where the titular Mr. Jeremiah Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ Dirísù) is a much sought-after single gentleman who finds himself in want of a wife. The only thorny aspect is that he’s made a list of standards that any potential bride is required to meet, and any he finds wanting in some manner is quickly and summarily discarded. When Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) becomes the latest woman rejected by Mr. Malcolm — and made a laughingstock in society as a result — she reaches out to her long-time friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) to assist her in hatching a plot of revenge. The plan? Selina will present herself as the ideal potential wife, emblematic of every qualification of Mr. Malcolm’s list, only to turn around and reject him publicly so that he can experience the same mortification. However, as Julia and her cousin Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) prepare Selina to become Mr. Malcolm’s perfect match, Selina finds herself falling for the man she’s supposed to ruin. The film also stars Theo James, Ashley Park, Divian Ladwa, Naoko Mori, Sophie Vavasseurand Sianad Gregory.

COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY

Ahead of the film’s July 1 premiere, Collider had the opportunity to speak with Allain about the Regency romance story’s journey from screenplay to the big screen — as well as which came first, the novel or the script itself. Over the course of the interview, which you can read below, Allain also discusses her inspirations for Mr. Malcolm’s Listhow the story initially took place in a very different era, what readers can expect from her next book due out in 2023, and more.

Collider: This has been a story that started on the page with you first, and I want to take it all the way back to even before it became a movie. What was the inspiration for the story of Mr. Malcolm’s List itself?

SUZANNE ALLAIN: Well, the obvious inspiration would be Jane Austen, which is funny. I’m being compared to her a lot in reviews, which is a good thing and also a bad thing because of course, she’s brilliant and the master, and none of us can compare with her, but she was definitely a lot of my inspiration . I loved Pride and Prejudice. It’s my favorite novel. I’m an Anglophile, and I also love comedic writers like PG Woodhouse, and I love Oscar Wilde’s plays, so a lot of that all came together in my writing style. I love dialogue.


As far as the characters, Selina was a little bit… I feel like her story is a little similar to mine, especially right now in this environment where I’m going to this premiere and I feel a little bit out of my element because I come from a more modest background. [I’d] never stayed at the Plaza before today. So I drew on a lot of my feelings of not feeling completely comfortable in a more wealthy, or richer, or even just a different environment from my own. Mr. Malcolm obviously was a little bit of a take on Mr. Darcy. Even some of the requirements on his list, I drew from Pride and Prejudice and the scene where Darcy talks about what he considers an accomplished woman. I actually wrote a short story that took place in modern times about a man who had a list of requirements for a partner, and then I realized it fit much better in the Regency era, when it was all about making the best match, so I drew on that as well to adapt it into a novel.


I know that the film rights got picked up, but the book hadn’t come out yet. Did the book come first, and then the screenplay? Which one preceded the other, or were they both in a state of existence together?

ALLAIN: My books and my career seem to, unfortunately, coincide with a lot of major world events. 2001, my first book came out, and then I wrote Mr. Malcolm’s List the novel as the second book in a two-book contract, but it never ended up getting published because the imprint that published my first book closed a few months after the September 11 attack. I ended up self-publishing the book years later in 2009, and then I read some reviews of the book. I don’t necessarily recommend searching for your reviews and reading them. [With] movies, I shouldn’t be doing that either, although we’ve been getting some really nice reviews, so it’s great. But anyway, I read some reviews, and one of the readers said she could really see it as a film and that she really enjoyed the dialogue, and I do enjoy writing, so it made me think of breaking into a new medium.


I adapted the novel into a script and in 2011, I uploaded it. Amazon Studios was getting into the film industry. That was right when they started coming up with their own studio, so they had some free screenwriting contests and I entered it in that and it placed, and that’s when I really started getting serious. Then I thought, “Oh, well, maybe this is a valid career path, screenwriting.” I ended up uploading the script to The Black List and it scored very highly, [and] they ended up making a table read of the script as part of their Black List Table Reads podcast. That’s when the director, Emma Holly Jones, heard it for the first time. She became attached to direct, and that brought us to where we are today. Then, finally, the book actually came full circle and got a major publishing contract in 2020 through Berkley. Yeah, it’s been a very roundabout journey to get where we are today and a long process. It was definitely not an overnight success.


RELATED: ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’: Freida Pinto on Introducing South Asian Culture to Regency Fashion and Portraying Female Friendships

I know that they filmed on location, but I also know that there were a lot of heavy restrictions. Was it possible for you to visit filming at all? Were you able to see them doing anything in person?

ALLAIN: Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be very involved. It was actually before vaccinations and it was during COVID. I was able to FaceTime once during shooting and I was involved in the making of the short film. That was done pre-COVID, so I did get to travel to London in 2018 and be on set for the three days. I got to meet some of the actors, [and] quite a few of them, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, and Freida Pinto all stayed to be in the feature film. I was able to meet them at that time, and I actually am excited to see them again. It’s been almost four years since we filmed the short film, so it’s a nice little reunion here in New York with a lot of the principal cast.

Is there a favorite scene from the book that you were really excited to get to see adapted for the screen?

ALLAIN: It’s funny. There was a scene that I really, really enjoyed and it was the scene that takes place at the horse auction. That’s not where it’s set in the book, but in the film, they set it in a horse auction and it’s Ashley Park who portrays Birdy Covington. I loved Ashley in this film. I’m a huge fan. She was so hilarious. It was funny because when I wrote it, even in the book, the character in the book is much older. I had pictured [her] As not a beautiful young actress, and she just really did such a good job. She was awesome in every scene she was in, in the film. I wish there were more scenes with her in them.

But also the entire ensemble cast was in that scene, and I think that’s also what made it so special to me because I just felt they all just shone in that moment. Oliver, Zawe Ashton, Freida and Ṣọpẹ and Theo. That was just a nice scene because of being able to see them all just do such a great job and really play off each other and just highlight the humor, which is what I wanted so much for this film — not just the romance, but the comedy was so important to me, to make people laugh. That’s what I really love about this final product; I feel like people will definitely laugh and if not laugh out loud, at least they’ll smile and feel better at the end.

Do you have any other projects or books that you’re working on right now that you can talk about?

ALLAIN: Yes, thanks for asking. I am working on another book. It’s going to be released in 2023 and it’s in the same genre, it’s a Regency romance historical romantic comedy. It’s also about a man with a written document, but it’s a younger son who is poor in this case, and so he writes a directory of all the rich eligible women, widows, and spinsters in the London area. This, of course, is even more heinous than having a list because he’s basically doxxing a bunch of women, and so our heroine gets on this directory and she’s not thrilled, and so hopefully hilarity ensues from that. That is coming out next year in 2023.

I’ve recently finished another screenplay as well. It’s not based on a book, it’s just a script, but it’s a new genre for me that I’m a fan of. It’s a psychological thriller and it’s called Bliss. Basically, it’s like The Hunger Games meets Hitchcock’s Vertigo. A young woman graduates from an elite boarding school and she discovers that her school wasn’t what it seemed and that she could’t trust anyone or anything, not even her own memories. That’s it in a nutshell, so I’m excited about that as well.

Mr. Malcolm’s List is now playing in theaters.

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