Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris from Focus Features is simply put, a delight. In a timeline where media consumption can often feel like overloading one’s already overtaxed mind, this film can be a bright spot where beautiful storytelling, delightful acting, and human kindness reign supreme.
We’re introduced to kind and dependable Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) in 1957 London. She’s a hard-working house cleaner with a lively best friend named Vi (Ellen Thomas). Ada and Vi spend their days cleaning the small flats and the spacious apartments of people living far more charmed lives. Ada spends her evenings in the local dance hall with Vi and Irishman Archie (Jason Isaacs – with a very handsome Irish accent), who clearly has a soft spot for Ada. Then a fateful day occurs, where Ada comes in contact with haute couture. Not just any haute couture. A Christian Dior. This magnificent dress becomes Ada’s dream, and she does everything she can from budgeting to betting at the races to save up enough money to travel to Paris and buy a Christian Dior gown.
I’ll refrain from spoiling too much of the plot, but once our dreamer Mrs. Harris finally arrives in the city of light, she experiences quite the transformative adventure. The satisfying part of this film is not that Ada needs to change, but that the Parisian cast of the film are just as affected by her arrival as they are to her.
Lesley Manville is a joy to watch on screen. She truly embodies a working-class woman, possessed with dignity and self-confidence that radiated in her performance. Ada was just as at home in a room of people who believed they were her betters as she was in the local pub with her friends. Manville is deserving of praise for creating a character that felt so unbelievably life-like that it transports viewers. There’s a scene where Ada is just sitting and using a tissue, yes, just a simple tissue, and in that moment, she was as real as my grandmother who has similar mannerisms. I was utterly charmed by her performance and will be seeking out some of her other work going forward.
Outside of the cast performances, director (and co-screenwriter) Anthony Fabian deserves praise for the tone and direction of the film. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is based on the 1958 novel Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico, which was also made into a 1992 made for TV movie of the same name starring Dame Angela Lansbury. Fabian, while keeping the same plot, manages to deliver a whimsical film that still feels rather grounded in the social class themes within the story.
Make no mistake, the heart of this film lies in the self-imposed barriers of social status. Whether it’s through the perspective of Mrs. Harris, seamstresses, or trash collectors, this film takes magnifying glass to the upper classes, leaving viewers wondering why they feel so entitled to gate-keep things like haute couture – money is money after all. Whether you’ve earned it as a CEO or shining shoes, every person deserves the dignity of deciding what they want to do with it and to not feel ostracized for their social status.
While these are difficult plot points to get right, this film is spectacularly balanced with fun, fashion, and a touch of existentialism. It’s a feel-good movie you can watch with anyone (rated PG!), and a palate cleanser to the superhero and high-flying mavericks currently dominating big screens. If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that Mrs. Harris will burrow herself into your heart, reminding everyone that dreams are meant to be chased – no matter the outcome. Getting there is half the adventure.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is available to watch today (7/15) at your local cinema.