- JO KADLECEK
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (PG)
In a Word: Beautiful
Lesley Manville stars as Mrs Harris in director Tony Fabian’s Mrs Harris Goes To Paris. PICTURE: David Lukazs / © 2021 Ada Films Ltd – Harris Squared Kft
Based on Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a lovely reminder that even when the daily global headlines can be devastating, movies today can still be inspiring, even hopeful. As refreshing in its filmmaking as it is its storyline, the film offers today’s audiences a fresh take on the cliché, random acts of kindness, with kindness as much a part of this redemptive story as any character or city.
Set in early 1950s London, Mrs Ada Harris (Lesley Manville), a hardworking “dreamer” of a cleaning lady and seamstress, learns her “Eddie is never coming home from the war.” When she discovers a client’s Christian Dior dress in the closet where she’s tidying up, she is stunned by the design – and shocked when she hears how much the “frock” costs. Nevertheless, something about the dress is a balm to her grieving heart, drawing her into its beauty and so she begins to save her money to buy one.
“The thing about this third adaptation of Gallico’s story – the second was a 1992 television movie – Mrs. Arris Goes to Paris with a stellar cast of Angela Lansbury, Omar Shariff and Dianna Rigg – is that this 2022 version avoids the syrupy sentimentality a story like this could fall into. Instead, Manville keeps her character real and layered, with her lovely attributes brought out and put on display like the dresses themselves, in large part because of the cast of characters who see below the surface.”
Then through a series of unexpected generosities, she finds herself in Paris at a viewing of Christian Dior’s next season’s dresses. The models are amazed that, “a cleaning lady from England” is in the audience and she becomes a hero to the staff so jaded by the snobbery of wealthy clients. When Mrs Harris buys one of the dresses, she’s forced to stay in Paris an extra week for it to be made. But her dreaming and many kindnesses are rewarded – as they often are for all of us – and she returns to London not only with a fabric of beauty but a new sense of dignity.
The thing about this third adaptation of Gallico’s story – the second was a 1992 television movie – Mrs. Arris Goes to Paris with a stellar cast of Angela Lansbury, Omar Shariff and Dianna Rigg – is that this 2022 version avoids the syrupy sentimentality a story like this could fall into. Instead, Manville keeps her character real and layered, with her lovely attributes brought out and put on display like the dresses themselves, in large part because of the cast of characters who see below the surface.
Natasha (deftly played by Portuguese actor Alba Baptista), an unhappy fashion model who’d rather read books than wear dresses for others to gawk at, gives Mrs Harris the opportunity to bring out her best. Loyal friend and fellow cleaning lady Vi (Ellen Thomas) gives Ada the support and challenges she needs, as does Marguerite (Roxane Duran), the assistant to the fashion models who easily becomes Mrs Harris’s advocate. Only the Dior store manager Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) disdains the cleaning lady, but that too comes to a halt when Mrs Harris shows her compassion.
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Director Anthony Fabian (who also wrote the script) brings a careful touch to the magical realism where Mrs Harris fills the screen most of the time. While some of the dream moments and close-ups of Manville’s face push close to the edge of sappy, they’re grounded quickly in the story’s unexpected journey and original soundtrack by Rael Jones. That journey – like all of ours – is full of surprises, possibilities and disappointments – love interests in Paris from the gentleman Marquis (Lambert Wilson) and London friend Archie (Jason Isaacs) bring Ada’s dreams to the forefront and reveal more of her heart’s desire to be anything but the “invisible cleaning lady”.
Mrs Harris Goes To Paris taps into the good in us, inviting audiences too often desensitised from the violence and despair of Hollywood movies, to slow down. To dream again. And mostly to look deeper into the faces of those around us for the beauty that is more than the clothes we wear or the work we do.
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