With the right approach, the simplest goal can become the grandest of stakes. On paper, the goal of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a woman wanting to buy a Christian Dior dress in the name of living her fantasies of elegance. That logline alone not only launched a series of successful novels, but it was also the inspiration for a new cinematic adaptation in the modern age of filmmaking. Shelve all doubts that this sort of project is not meant for the movies, as Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is an endlessly charming comedy that’s ready to wear for all moviegoers.
Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) spends her days making the rounds and cleaning the residences of her valued customers. Making a living for herself in post-World War II London, she lives in constant hope that her missing husband will return, until one day, she learns he died in a crash landing. This unfortunate news coincides with a new desire, which is made possible by her late husband’s war pension.
Though she’s been delivered the worst news in the world, Mrs. Harris is bound for Paris to purchase that Christian Dior gown of her dreams. She’ll encounter new friends (Lucas Bravo, Alba Baptiste and Lambert Wilson) and those who need a little more convincing (Isabelle Huppert) in the name of fashion and chasing her dreams. Along the way she'll turn heads, and warm hearts, while inspiring everyone in her wake to do the same.
Co-writer/director Anthony Fabian takes Paul Gallico’s original novel and expands it into a richer experience in every sense.
Anthony Fabian, along with the team of Carroll Cartwright, Keith Thompson and Olivia Hetreed, have taken Paul Gallico’s classic novel and turned it into something even more special. Expanding on the backstory of why Ada Harris wants her dress, Fabian draws a deeper motivation for Gallico’s character than was ever presented in the source. Which is how and why Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris took a story about purchasing a dress and turned it into an even richer experience than ever before.
Enriching its protagonist in all the right ways, the film that results from such a decision is absolutely captivating at every turn. Though Mrs. Harris does indeed go to Paris, this isn’t a mere sightseeing journey. The landscapes on display are the Dior gowns, historical and fabricated, that costume designer Jenny Beavan has brought to stunning life. The House of Dior is the major Parisian landmark on display in Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, and in the way it’s captured on film, that setting is just as mythic and breathtaking as the Eiffel Tower itself.
A personal film in size and scope, Anthony Fabian doesn’t skimp on the visual or thematic detail, as he not only co-wrote the film, but also serves as its director. Imbuing the film with a fairytale-like quality, the entire experience glides along its runtime in an organically beautiful manner. This is also thanks to the efforts of the masterful cast assembled to revamp Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris for a modern audience.
Lesley Manville dazzles in this grown-up fairytale alongside a refreshing cast of characters.
It cannot be said enough that Lesley Manville absolutely captivates every inch of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. That’s not to say she doesn’t share the floor with an amazing roster that includes Jason Isaacs, Isabelle Huppert and Lambert Wilson. Each one of these actors is known for roles that have, in the past, required intensity and villainy at work. Yet each and every one of them is clearly having fun playing to the softer side of their craft. Even in the antagonist of Huppert’s Madame Colbert, her actions to seemingly uphold the dignity of the Dior brand are never out of malice, but out of reverence for tradition.
Perhaps the greatest contribution that Anthony Fabian and his co-writers have given to Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is that of the reinvention of Ada Harris’ best friend Vi Butterfield (Ellen Thomas). In order to “highlight the important contributions of African Caribbean people to the UK war effort,” Fabian cast Thomas to diversify the character in a historically accurate way. Yet the material makes no extravagant deal out of it, allowing the viewer to take in the true significance of such a move. It’s also advantageous in the fact that Manville and Thomas are one of the best pairs of friends to hit the screen in some time.
It’s rather fitting to see Lesley Manville holding court in the fashion world again, as she was previously seen playing Daniel Day Lewis’ imposing sister in Phantom Thread. This time around, instead of owning the room with a scowl or a well-played barb, Manville conquers with extraordinary levels of charm and grace. There are shots of Ada Harris marveling at Dior dresses that focus solely on Lesley Manville’s expressions of joy, leaving her to light up the screen sheerly by her presence.
Much like Ada herself, Manville doesn’t forget to share the wealth with everyone else in this world; giving as much as she takes from this rich landscape. This is especially true in the scenes she shares with Jason Isaacs' Archie, a man who is protective of Ada and a potential romantic interest presented in Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. While fashion is indeed a passion here, character is still king.
You only need to have ever had a dream in order to relate to Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris.
Some potential audience members might be turned off by Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, be it by the appropriately retro energy or the seemingly fashion-based storyline. Anyone who rejects this film on that basis is doing a great disservice to themselves, as you only have to have ever had a dream in order to relate with this tale of haute couture. While the pursuit of Ada Harris’ dress is the thread that sews everything together, there’s romance, political commentary and human understanding that are woven into this cinematic garment as well.
Kindness is key in the world of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, and in that respect this movie is akin to something like the Paddington films. Only instead of a children’s tale where a kindly bear sets the world straight, we’re treated to a cleaning lady’s journey of similar growth. As Ada Harris moves closer to her dream dress, she starts to speak up for herself more in life, reclaiming her dignity stronger than ever. When all is said and done, the world is changed in its own way because Mrs. Harris made it so. To watch that process yields one of the most humane cinematic experiences of this year, which why it’s also one of the best films of 2022.
Escapism is an important component in cinema, as anything from a new setting to a new pair of shoes can be the gateway to flights of fancy. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris just happens to be able to use both of those factors to its benefit, and with a triumphant musical score from composer Rael Jones to boot. Both a film that’s contemporary in its values, yet classic in its look and feel, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a tale of beauty and kindness at a time when we need it. Combining an appreciation for high fashion with a better understanding of our fellow humans, it's a film that will leave you smiling ear to ear with a full and happy heart.
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.
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