If there is ever a codification of the genre of film featuring plucky middle-aged British women defying conventions and expectations, Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris will likely be noted as a prime example of the group. Not particularly groundbreaking in terms of its dramaturgy, director Anthony Fabian’s adaptation of Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, to use a British turn of phrase. A delightful story that doesn’t veer to far into either comedy or drama, Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris is a light, unpresupposing story that makes for an enjoyable watch, but doesn’t leave one with too much to contemplate about afterwards.
Ada Harris has been living a quiet life as a cleaning woman in London. A war widow who only recently received confirmation that her husband has indeed been killed in action during World War II 13 years earlier, she moves through her day without much change to her dull routine. But while working at one of her clients’ home, she sees a beautiful Christian Dior designer dress hanging in a closet and decides she wants just one glamorous thing in her life – her own dress from the House of Dior. The five hundred pound price tag would normally be beyond her price range but a series of unlikely windfalls leaves her with just the right amount to be able to head to Paris to purchase her dream dress.
What follows is a rather sweet, if somewhat innocuous, story of a fish out of water as Mrs. Harris’s lower class dream comes face to face with the fashion house’s high society snobbery. Predictably, each come to understand the other better; and as Mrs. Harris pursues her own dream, she also encourages the House’s young, bashful accountant to pursue his.
If the overall feel of the movie seems familiar, then you have probably seen at least one or two similar types of stories before such as Calendar Girls (2003), Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005) or The Lady In The Van (2015), all offshoots of the more broad uplifting films about the average British person that extends back to the days of Ealing Studios and such films as Passport to Pimlico (1949) and The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953). There are no real narrative surprises to the film, but it plays out so charmingly, it is hard to fault it too much.
The performances here are what keeps the film moving. Lesley Manville in the titular role presents a character who seems to be a pendulum swing opposite of her haute couetre ice queen character from The Phantom Thread (2017). Manville imbues Mrs. Harris with a decorous modesty that never comes across as naive or uneducated. It’s a charming performance and lets one believe in Mrs. Harris’s ability to seemingly win people over to her side in relatively short order upon meeting her. The rest of the cast also perform admirable work even when their roles are only sparsely written.