The British period comedy-drama Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is trying a little too hard to win over its audience | Movie reviews | Spokane | Interior of the Pacific Northwest
Jhere is a fine line between sweet and sickening, and the British comedy-drama Mrs. Harris goes to Paris meet him a little too often. It’s hard not to love this colorful, eager-to-please film, centered around a likeable performance by Lesley Manville as a woman so generous that she’s almost the human equivalent of Paddington Bear. Manville makes sure that Mrs. Harris herself is never intrusive to watch, but the film around her eventually becomes far too cute for its own good.
Based on Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel, which has been adapted several times and spawned a series of books about working-class London housekeeper and seamstress Ada Harris, the film is set in 1957, when the humble Mrs. Harris finally receives official word of her husband’s death in World War II. She’s spent the past 13 years since his disappearance quietly hoping that he’ll somehow return, and the news of his death shakes her from the stasis she’s been stuck in. She is even more shaken by a dress she sees in the house of one of them. condescending wealthy customers, a gorgeous piece from French fashion house Christian Dior.
Thanks to a series of unexpected financial windfalls, Ms. Harris finds herself with the resources to travel to Paris and buy a Dior dress, a small but meaningful indulgence to bring some brightness into her life. But the Dior establishment is not a retail store, it is a haute couture house where each piece is a bespoke work of art. With her frumpy style and brash manner, Mrs. Harris is almost unable to enter the window display of Dior’s latest line, until the generous Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson) invites her as a guest.
Almost everyone Ms. Harris meets in Paris proves to be generous and helpful, and even people like the pretentious Dior executive Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) come to love this disarming woman. Mrs. Harris picks out a dress she likes during the fashion show, but doesn’t realize she’ll have to stay a week in Paris to have it custom-tailored to her measurements. Thankfully, Dior CFO André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo) is more than happy to let her stay in his guest room.
While in Paris, Ms. Harris continued to make friends, while attending her fittings and immersing herself in the local culture. She facilitates a romance between two Dior employees, foments a staff rebellion when layoffs are threatened, and almost single-handedly sets the company on the path to the mass-market powerhouse it will later become. It’s a bit too much to put on an unassuming woman’s head, and eventually Mrs. Harris’ ability to solve any problems and win everyone over to her side goes from charming to irritating.
That’s not to discount the film’s charm, however, and if the filmmakers had cut the film down to nearly two hours, the charm might have been enough. Mrs. Harris goes to Paris is too long for something so lighthearted, and it drags into the final act as Mrs. Harris returns to London. While in Paris, she encounters protesters and witnesses the lingering damage of war, but any hint of social commentary is happily brushed aside.
The appealing supporting cast also includes Alba Baptista as a Dior model with intellectual ambitions, Ellen Thomas as Ms. Harris’ encouraging best friend, and Jason Isaacs as a local barfly and would-be suitor. None of them have enough to do, despite the extended running time, and the big Huppert is especially wasted in his role as stock manager. She becomes just another smiling face supporting Mrs. Harris’ relentless reign of kindness. ♦
MADAM. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS
Directed by Anthony Fabian
With Lesley Manville, Lucas Bravo, Isabelle Huppert