Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Reviewed for Film Factual by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Anthony Fabian
Writer: Anthony Fabian
Cast: Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Jason Isaacs, Anna Chancellor, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Rose William
Screened at: Peacock, LA, 12/13/22
Opens: July 15th, 2022
How big the world feels depends on your perspective, and many other things. Those who travel internationally on a weekly basis for work or who take lavish vacations to expensive tropical destinations may see a lengthy flight as a common and unremarkable thing, while others have never ventured far beyond the small towns in which they grew up. When unexpected fortune arrives, how a person acts will be very much influenced by what they’ve previously had. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a light, endearing tale of what happens when sincerity and dreams collide.
Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) has worked as a cleaning lady in London for years, and finds herself in an unexpected state when her long-dead husband’s war pension is finally awarded to her. Taken with a Dior dress that she has seen, she flies to Paris intent on purchasing the fanciest piece of clothing she has ever owned. Dismissed by the demeaning Claudine (Isabelle Huppert) as unworthy of even entering the premises, Mrs. Harris quickly makes friends and shows that she has a valuable perspective as the perfect dress is designed for her.
This film is based on the 1958 novel Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico, whose title emphasizes the accent of its protagonist. Mrs. Harris is unassuming but also opinionated, and she is upset by the treatment she receives upon arriving at Dior in Paris, unhappy that others can simply walk in and cut in front of her when she has been waiting politely. She has plenty to learn about high society but has no intention of changing who she is, with just as much to teach those who had only just recently looked down on her based on nothing more than her appearance.
Manville is a wonderful actress who also shines this year in season five of The Crown, taking over the role of Princess Margaret from Vanessa Kirby and Helena Bonham Carter. She has delivered acclaimed performances in films like Another Year and Phantom Thread, and, though this role isn’t nearly as serious, she still infuses it with everything she has, delivering witty lines as she shows those who believe they are high-class that their self-important attitudes are serving no one, and that she has carved out a perfectly satisfactory life for herself without wealth or cruelty.
The supporting cast is also well-populated. Huppert is properly cast as Claudine, who enjoys the cast to be haughty but also evolves over the course of the film. Lambert Wilson exudes charm and charisma as the Marquis de Chassagne, who welcomes Mrs. Harris in to a new world while others only seek to exclude her. Lucas Bravo, who plays young chef Gabriel in Emily in Paris, gets serious as a Dior employee, while Warrior Nun star Alba Baptista is compelling as Natasha, who is best able to understand Mrs. Harris’ life experiences and warmly responds to her right away. Jason Isaacs also appears in an atypically light and jovial part as Archie, a local friend of Mrs. Harris.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is also notable, unsurprisingly, for its costumes. The way in which the dresses that are worn by models walking down the runway while Mrs. Harris watches in adoration are presented gives them an air of magic, only enhanced by Mrs. Harris’ reaction to seeing them. The effort and work that goes into each stitch also makes up a good deal of the film’s plot as Mrs. Harris comes to relate to those whose contributions go entirely underappreciated. This film celebrates the unseen and underpraised, and it’s a warm, light experience that is fittingly pleasant and fleeting.
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B