Step back to a simpler time, as you immerse yourself in the heartwarming story of “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.” Set in 1957 London, English actor Lesley Manville plays the loveable Ada Harris, a cleaning woman and seamstress, whose husband was killed in the war and is in limbo in her life, until she sees the purple flower-appliqued Christian Dior “Ravissante” of one of her aristocratic clients. It lights a spark within her to go to Paris and purchase one. Ellen Thomas who plays her loyal and fun friend Vi Butterfield thinks she has lost it, but is supportive. She diligently begins saving her money, but doesn’t make much headway as several of her ritzy employers don’t pay on time.
Then the stars align, when she receives her husband’s war widow pension, a reward for returning a diamond clip, and winnings from a dog racing bet. When she arrives in Paris, the city happens to be a wreck, with garbage everywhere, due to a strike.
As you would expect, she is not welcomed into the seemingly elite Dior world, and is snubbed by Madame Colbert, played convincingly by French actor Isabelle Huppert. A kinship forms with model Natasha, played endearingly by Alba Bapista, as Mrs. Harris has occasions to help her along the way, including matchmaking with Monsieur Fauvel, played superbly by Lucas Bravo, from the “Emily in Paris” television series. She ends up being escorted by Marquis de Chassagne, played by Lambert Wilson, into Dior’s 10th anniversary collection, with dress names like “Cabaret”, “Caracas”, and “Sonnet.” While the models cheer the fact that Mrs. Harris gets into the show, the other guests make their disdain known. When Mrs. Harris sees Christian Dior, she comments, “He looks like my milkman.”
When she discovers that it takes at least two weeks to custom make a dress, Monsieur Fauvel comes to the rescue by offering her a place to stay. She accepts, saying, “You don’t get all this hoo-ha when you buy a frock from Woolworth.” Her hardworking, irresistible spirit is evident all through her adventures in Paris. She even ends up saving Dior, by encouraging Monsieur Fauvel to pitch his new ideas for increasing products and access to the luxury line.
This movie is based on the 1958 book “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris” written by Paul Gallico, who wrote over forty books, four of which are the adventures of Mrs. Harris including to New York and Moscow. This story was also a made-for-television movie in 1992, with Angela Lansbury playing the lead role.
The cinematography in this movie gives it the retro European feel, and Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan creates amazing gowns, like the emerald-green “Venus” gown that Mrs. Harris gets fitted for, but selflessly never wears, due to a mishap when she loans it out, to her favorite shimmery red “Temptation” dress, in which she descends the stairs to dance with her dear friend Archie, played by Jason Isaacs, who tells her that it is she who is beautiful inside and out, not the dress.
This movie keeps you rooting for this delightful underdog, who feels invisible but rises up in her own way, to show how ordinary people can have the most extraordinary impact. While you won’t recognize most of the actors in this movie, they are well cast and adeptly pull off this charming story, which offers a delightful escape from the norm. At the end of this feel good movie, the audience clapped and several mentioned how much they enjoyed this endearing story.
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Genre: Drama, Comedy
Director: Anthony Fabian
Actors: Lesley Manville, Jason Isaacs, Vi Butterfield, Alba Bapista, Lambert Wilson, Isabelle Huppert, Rose Williams, Anna Chancellor
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes