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Gemma Chan Is Your New Period Drama Heroine in Mr. Malcolm’s List

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Period dramas are my jam. I love the gowns, the erotic subtext of an intimate handhold, and a tense/flirty conversation during a well-choreographed dance number in a poorly lit ballroom. Yet, there has always been the problem of these dramas taking place in the past and therefore feeling as if it must cast only white people in order for it to be “realistic” to … armchair historians and people who want to deny POC the pleasure of a tall hat and underskirts.

That is slowly changing, and Refinery 29′s mini-movie, Mr. Malcolm’s List, is showing what a fully realized version of that could look like.

“Set in early 1800’s England, a young lady (Gemma Chan) engages in courtship with a mysterious wealthy suitor, Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dirisu), unaware of his unattainable list of demands for his future wife. Written by Suzanne Allain, based on her script and novel of the same name, and directed by Emma Holly Jones, the romantic comedy stars Sope Dirisu, Gemma Chan, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Freida Pinto.”

First of all, this movie gave me so many Brady’s Cinderella feels watching it, so that was truly delightful, as was the slow revelation in the beginning that Mr. Malcolm wasn’t the white guy in the red coat, Cassie, but the gorgeous Black man in blue. An interracial period drama romance between two POC? I’m not crying; you’re crying.

Gemma Chan is so beautiful and talented. As someone who watched her on Humans and has loved the acclaim that Crazy Rich Asian has brought to her, I’m glad my dresses-with-pockets-wearing queen is getting to showcase her skills in so many different kinds of projects. As Miss Julia Thistlewaite, Chan plays a Becky Sharpe-type social climber looking to woo Mr. Malcolm with her features, perfume, and cinched Scarlett O’Hara waistline.

Sadly, she is not all that informed on politics, a tad spoiled, and has been on the market for four seasons and is now Christmas Cake. It hits all the tired and true marks of a Regency-era romantic drama.

I tried to see if there was going to be more, or if this was it, and it seems like I must be content with rewatching these scenes over and over again for now. Still, what’s so extraordinary is that after the excitement of seeing all of these awesome people of color in this movie, it just becomes a regular period drama. There is no attention being brought to the fact that they are brown/non-white. They just are, and that’s all people are really asking for in some of these adaptations.

Looking at Gemma Chan, with her poise and elegance, she could easily be a Caroline Bingley or Mary Crawford, and Mr. Malcolm was serving a strong Darcy swagger. It just shows that getting the best person for the role in these movies doesn’t mean they have to be a white actor.

Yes, in some movies it would be weirder than others, especially if they are dealing with issues of slavery like Mansfield Park, but since that very rarely becomes the focus of these movies, I say let us have inclusion.

Also, can we please get a second part to this, because … Freida Pinto as the ingenue? Yes, please. Please!

(via Refinery 29, image: Refinery 29)

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