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'Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris' review: Lesley Manville delights in charming comedy

Courtesy of Focus Features


An ardent, lower-middle class housekeeper who doesn’t know much about snobbish social norms intends to purchase a lavish Christian Dior dress in the charming “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.” Adapted from the Paul Gallico novel, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” joins a recent list of British imports-“Brian and Charles,” “The Duke” and “The Phantom of the Open”-to dramatize a subsection of the working class keen on leaving their mark in society. These movies are always populated with sweet, affectionate characters who are both bubbly and nice, which makes the more predictable and mundane elements go down smoother than expected. It also doesn’t hurt Manville enhances the screen alongside Jenny Beavan’s posh costume design. For a movie about the beauty of clothing, the outfits in “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” are worth the price of admission.

The year is the mid-1950s and Ada Harris (Manville) spends her days cleaning up the messes of the pompous and egotistical wealthy elite. Afterwards she connects with friends in her small community while awaiting news about the return of Mr. Harris who is still MIA from World War II. When the inevitable arrives about her husband’s fate, Mrs. Harris faces an internal crisis about what the future will look like. But she finds purpose upon discovering a gorgeous Dior dress hanging in the closet of one of her clients and makes a concentrated effort to save up enough coin and treat herself for a change. A montage of penny scrapping, and coincidental/lucky breaks ensue until Mrs. Harris raises enough capital to not only travel overseas, but to finally get the dress she’s always dreamed about.

She’s greeted by an arrogant clerk (played by Isabelle Huppert) who immediately dismisses her, but these narratives always manage to weave through blockades! Naturally, she meets several influential characters, including a nobleman (Lambert Wilson); Dior’s accountant André (Lucas Bravo) and even one of the dress models (Alba Baptista) who all step-up and aid Mrs. Harris. Paddington would be proud.

Director Anthony Fabian doesn’t showcase any new or groundbreaking filmmaking techniques, but he lets the characters breathe even if the screenplay (credited to Fabian, and three others) tries jampacking all the class comedy troupes into one fell swoop, which occasionally undercuts the disparities between the working class and the wealthy. More depth on behalf of Mrs. Harris would have been appreciated, especially as the move tries cooking up a side-romance between Baptista and Bravo that could use some spice. Still, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is a timeless story with enough heft from Manville, the ensemble, and the costume design to create something memorable. 

Grade: B

MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS opens in theaters Friday, July 15th. 


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