Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, The British Cleaning Lady on a Mission to the Dior House

By José Alberto Hermosillo 

The delightful and heartwarming British sensation “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is a total crowd pleaser - an enchanting period drama about overcoming adversity, fulfilling dreams and desires, and achieving one of those little pleasures in life that makes us feel better about ourselves. It is one of the most enjoyable films of the year!

After losing her husband at the end of WWII in Poland, newly widowed Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) has to assimilate her marital status. To continue her life, she cleans houses to make ends meet and keep the dream alive. Although she still doesn’t know what her fancy is, she must go on with her charming personality.

At the end of war, the British liked to play the lotto, listen to the raffles on the radio, and go to the greyhound races to make extra cash and keep going with their lives. Mrs. Harris is not the exception.

While Ada worked for some pretentious ladies who relatively could afford her cleaning services, she discovered an Haute couture Dior dress. Her desire quickly becomes a dream and then an obsession. Her incentive is to make enough to buy that dress, even if she doesn’t know if she will wear it one day or not. All she knows is that she has to have enough to buy that gorgeous gown at the Dior House in Paris.

In this European co-production, the role of Mrs. Harris seems to be specifically tailored for experienced actress Lesley Manville. Mrs. Manville delivers a delightful interpretation of the old lady on a mission to the City of Lights.

Mrs. Manville’s extensive trajectory includes the critically-acclaimed TV series “The Crown” and “Dangerous Liaisons.” She also worked with Academy-award-winning directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson in “Phantom Thread,” for which she earned an Oscar nomination, and with Mike Leigh in “Another Year.”

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” diverse cast includes Oscar nominee veteran French actress Isabelle Huppert (“Elle,” “Amour,” “The Piano Teacher,” and “EO”). Mrs. Hupper is right in her element playing the snobby, stuck-up Mr. Christian Dior’s righteous right hand who will do anything to make Ada’s presence in the City of Lights distressing.

Lambert Wilson (“The Matrix,” “Flawless”) is the Parisian mature wealthy host who rescues Mrs. Harris out of those sticky situations. Jason Issacs (“Hotel Mumbai,” “The Death of Staling”) plays Ada’s suitor.

Model/actor Lucas Bravo who plays the handsome chef in “Emily in Paris” is the low-key Dior accountant who offers his apartment to Ada. He is also in love with the hottest model in the prestigious firm. Other recognizable names complementing the superb cast are Alba Baptista (“The Child,” “Fatima”) and Rose Williams.

Moving away from the grimy depression films from the post-WWII era, “Mrs. Harris” transmits a buoyant atmosphere full of glitter, fashion, and intimate glamour. The recreation of the sets of London and Paris are remarkable and accordingly to the era.

The historic trash collectors’ strike in Paris is present almost in every scene as trash becomes an integral part of Parisian life – a prelude to the climax at the Dior firm, where Ada will have her glorious moment. 

The film’s sense of harmony and good comedy comes from its original music composed by Rael Jones. The jazzy music score is catchy and twinkles delightfully – although Mrs. Harris’s central theme is similar to Luis Bacalov’s unforgettable soundtrack of the Academy Award-winning Italian film “Il Postino.” Some other musical tones evoke the Disney movie “Enchanted.” 

Right after the book’s publishing in 1958, the first adaptation of Paul Gallico’s beloved novel was a play in a short version of the compilation. In 1992, a TV movie with Angela Lansbury, Diana Rigg, and Omar Sharif followed. “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is now a major motion picture fascinating hundreds of admirers across the globe.

The film's long overture will round up with a rewarding conflict resolution; and the predicament of “Mrs. Harris” lies in the relevance of the other characters, which makes it a cast ensemble production and not a character-driven story. A faster pace is needed focusing more on Mrs. Harris to consolidate the surprises and excitement. The editing could stay more on Mrs. Harris and not in the subplots. The cast ensemble works well, and the straightforward story serves the purpose of entertainment, keeping the audience cheerful until the end.

Grand Britain’s long tradition of making films with social content, class struggle, and labor strikes, “Mrs. Harris” continues with the same pattern. In these works, the entire community comes together and helps each other to overcome adversity, and achieve self-realization, including “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain,” “I, Daniel Blake,” “Waking Ned Devine,” “Calendar Girls,” “The Lady in the Van,” “Vera Drake,” and “Suffragette.”

Surprisingly in a fine comedy such as “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” the references to John Paul Sartre and other influential philosophers touch other characters in the most crucial moments.

The story presents the irony of the main character’s existentialist crisis and how the entire community rewards her with respect, gratitude, recognition, and love – all of which we seek for true gratification, as Mrs. Harris did in this fancy and enjoyable fable.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris official trailer

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