Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The adventures of an optimistic London charwoman (that’s a “cleaning lady” for U.S. speakers) circa 1957 is the basis for this quaint drama starring Lesley Manville. She works for the to well to do. One day Ada Harris comes across a beautiful Dior gown in the closet of her employer (Anna Chancellor). She immediately longs to travel to France and buy one of her own.

The picture is called Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, so it’s not a spoiler that she ultimately manages to acquire enough money to make the trip. Ah, but that’s just a formality. Buying an haute couture gown from the exclusive boutique at 30 Avenue Montaigne is a struggle too. She is a humble woman, but she speaks her mind. She’ll go toe to toe with the manager of Dior. Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) has appointed herself as the gatekeeper of taste. Claudine doesn’t appreciate someone of Mrs. Harris’ modest demeanor. However, Ada will charm everyone else. This includes the Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), an attendee at the fashion show, Natasha (Alba Baptista), one of the models, and accountant André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo), who understands the value of a sale.

Charming British comedies comprise a whole genre. The preciousness can seem a bit manufactured. A mood of whimsicality and happenstance wildly swinging between two extremes: from trite and affected to fizzy and delightful. Furthermore, this production was made with the full cooperation of Dior. The importance placed on material possessions is a motif. The way it promotes a dress from the fashion house as the ultimate goal in a woman’s life is a dubious concept.

Fortunately, the overall feeling is enchanting. Mrs. Harris’ aspiration is not really focused on the dress per se but about following your dreams and standing up for yourself. Actress Lesley Manville imbues her character with the requisite warmth and dignity to carry this notion. Anthony Fabian’s sprightly direction and a scintillating screenplay he co-wrote with Carroll Cartwright, Keith Thompson, and Olivia Hetreed further this idea.

A gentle 1950s-period piece about a middle-aged woman doesn’t seem like something made in 2022. This is an adaptation of Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris. It was previously adapted as a TV movie with Angela Lansbury in 1992 when productions like this were more common. Its mere existence in today’s cinematic landscape incurs my respect. The fact that it’s so beautifully mounted elevates the story into something rather special.

Currently available to rent on streaming (Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu, Redbox., Apple TV, etc.) in the U.S.

10-04-22

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