British actress Lesley Manville is mostly remembered for her roles in Mike Leigh’s films. There is almost no Leigh film that Manville did not star in, and her only Oscar nomination was for her supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. This almost-veteran (born in 1956) also excels in this charming, nostalgic and somewhat fairy-tale romantic comedy, which in spirit and style is reminiscent of similar films from old Hollywood in the fifties. Briton Anthony Fabian is already the third director to make a film of Paul Gallico’s novel from 1958 about an English maid who went to Paris to get an exclusive Christian Dior dress.
And “Mrs Harris Goes to Paris” is really a film that, with its charm and style, almost returns to the golden age of Hollywood, a time when films were made in which everything was possible, including that a modest, naive, simple-minded, good-hearted English woman the lower class in the fifties changed the business of the famous French fashion brand, as is the case here, for example. But even before that happens, we understand that Mrs. Ada Harris is a dreamer and an optimist who sees only the good in people and wants to please everyone. Manville is great as a woman who earns money cleaning the houses of the wealthier Londoners and she doesn’t give a damn even though she is aware that everyone looks down on her.
Some warmth and kindness seem to be spreading around her, as if radiating from her, even though life has not been kind to her and for 13 years she has not known the fate of her husband who disappeared in World War II. While cleaning the house of an idle rich woman, Ada will notice a spectacular Dior dress and will want one like it herself. And before she hoped, her wish will come true and she will head to Paris after it turns out that her husband was killed as a British soldier and she is due a back pension. With the winnings on the betting, she will save enough to go to Paris and buy a Dior dress, and once she arrives in the French capital, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” will turn into one of those typical fairy tales.
Although it is clear that she neither looks, nor behaves, nor style belongs to the company of those who gather in Dior’s courts for exclusive fashion shows and auctions for unique dresses, Ada will fall there to the horror of many, especially the head of the fashion house Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert in the role of a slightly different evil). Ada’s simplicity, sincerity, warmth, kindness and simple-mindedness will win over practically everyone, including the widower Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson). Almost everyone’s lives will change after meeting Ada, although it is easy to assume that at first everyone looks down on her. Although this was not exactly the type of films I normally prefer and although it is expectedly sweet and sugary, “Mrs Harris Goes to Parris” was a cute and nostalgic fairy tale that was also produced at the highest level.