Knowing that it might be difficult to finance a period piece from a first-time director, they started with a short film as a proof of concept. Many of the actors from the short, including Pinto as the scorned woman’s friend, reprise their roles in the feature. For most, it was an opportunity they rarely get.
“I always loved the Jane Austen period… those mannerisms, the costumes and the corsets,” said Pinto. “But I’d never been part of a world like that in my own acting career.”
Released by Refinery29 in early 2019, the short Mr Malcolm’s List was a hit and they were then certain that they had something that people wanted to see. To date it’s been viewed over two million times. Pinto even decided to executive produce the feature.
But there were still obstacles to come, from the pandemic to casting. To play Mr Malcolm, a handsome earl’s son with considerable inherited wealth who is the catch of the season, casting director Tamara-Lee Notcutt introduced Jones to Sope Dirisu.
“From the moment I met him, I was like, he’s Malcolm or I don’t do the movie,” Jones said. “I’m just the most stubborn human.”
Dirisu wasn’t a name at the time, but he had that Mr Darcy quality that she needed. Jones put her foot down even when faced with mounting pressures to cast a more recognisable face.
The British actor, who is Black and has become more known recently with roles in Gangs of London and a BAFTA nomination, reveled in the opportunity to be in a historical period piece “not as a person who was owned,” he said.
“I have played former slaves before and, for me, it was really important that that didn’t become a feature of my career,” Dirisu said. “I’ve seen lots of my white colleagues and counterparts do a period drama. You don’t get the same opportunities as a global majority actor.”