Synopsis: A seemingly ordinary British housekeeper whose dream to own a couture Christian Dior gown takes her on an extraordinary adventure to Paris.
Stars: Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Jason Isaacs, Anna Chancellor, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Rose Williams
Director: Anthony Fabian
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: I’m a person that regrettably tends to get those dreadful summer colds, and they often can lay me out for a week or more. Knock on wood, it’s nearly mid-July, and I’ve avoided any major maladies, but there is a faux ailment I do feel as if I may be coming down with: Blockbuster-itis. While not officially recognized, this has been known to affect all age groups and target those who frequent the theaters for the latest and greatest in popular entertainment. The trick to being dragged down into the depths of this disease is finding a remedy fast. Nothing cures fussy franchise delirium better than a slam-dunk audience pleaser & the delightful Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is the medicine I needed.
Based on the first of four books by American Paul Gallico (who also wrote the novel on which The Poseidon Adventure was based), Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris has found life before in film. First seen as a 1958 TV special, the year the book arrived on shelves, it was followed years later by a German film, I vaguely recall the 1992 TV movie headlined by Angela Lansbury, and now, thirty years later, a sumptuous feature film starring the terrific Lesley Manville. As the titular character, Manville (an Oscar nominee for 2017’s Phantom Thread) steps into a leading role with a calm charm laced with elegance that gives the hard-working cleaning lady a true heart of gold.
As the film opens, Ada Harris has finally received confirmation her husband, an airman believed lost in battle, did indeed meet his end. After years of hoping for his return, reality sets in, but life continues. She’s right back to cleaning homes for clients that don’t notice her (Christian McKay, Rush, with an endless parade of ‘nieces’), rely too much on her (Rose Williams, as an actress always late for an audition), or never seems to have her pay ready (Anna Chancellor, How I Live Now, playing a socialite with no social skills).
One day, she’s at the society lady’s flat and sees the most beautiful gown she’s ever laid eyes on…a Christian Dior frock from Paris. For 500£, she too could have a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Now, with a goal in mind, Mrs. Harris begins to save her earnings here and there and, through a series of lucky happenstance, finds herself in the City of Lights and the Dior showroom. Where she goes from there and how she gets tangled up with fussy Dior executive Claudine (Isabelle Huppert, Greta, refreshing to see in a comedy), a handsome Marquis (Lambert Wilson), and the affairs of two young residents within the House of Dior (Lucas Bravo and Alba Baptista), are for you to discover.
Director Anthony Fabian knew where to spend the production budget and doesn’t skimp on the good stuff. The classic Dior costumes that drift across the showroom floor (and our screen) are works of art and wearable, not the complicated creations meant for galleries they are today. Three-time Oscar winner Jenny Beavan (a winner this year for Cruella) pulled looks and recreates these gasp-inducing styles for the film, and they are nearly worth the price of admission. The outdoor production design can be slightly askew with too much reliance on CGI, but in a way that also adds to the overall feeling that this is one big dream.
So sweetly charming only a curmudgeon would hate it, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is one of those ‘just-so’ movies with barely a hair out of place. It’s got a gossamer sheen to everything that dials each visual up several notches, elevating the fantasy aspect of the tale. This glow makes it a pleasure to watch and easier to overlook some historical anomalies, like Ada telling Claudine, “You go, girl.” (in 1957? I don’t think so.). Then there are the tweaks to culture and casting to be more inclusive, though that cultural change wouldn’t be in place quite yet. Little quips aside, it’s a divinely decadent treat to encounter, and even if it weren’t such a visual feast, it would have survived on the energy put forth by Manville’s performance alone. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, and you should see her adventure in your local movie theater.