A peerless delight! A throwback motion picture as exquisite as the House of Dior itself! Refreshing, uplifts the human spirit. A film to inspire dreamers and doers. Easily one of the best pictures of the year. Slip into Director Anthony Fabian’s meticulously crafted film that is sure to make a beautiful statement in any cinema! Lesley Manville delivers a command performance as the title character that will tug at your heartstrings. While the setting may be in the pretentious world of haute couture, this adaptation of Paul Gallico’s timeless novel takes audiences on a journey that is just as relatable and relevant as it is whimsical! When so many films depict the fate of the world at stake, preach a woke-filled sermon, or rely on showmanship over substance, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is an endearing fairy tale that feels very close to story in which we could find ourselves. Realistic enough wherein we effortlessly buy into the story with just the right about of fantasy that it serves as a much needed cinematic respite from the deluge of larger-than-life movies overcrowding cinemas across the country. Simple, yet complex. It’s a perfect drama that provides audiences with hope and hutzpah.
In 1950s London, a widowed cleaning lady falls madly in love with a couture Dior dress, deciding she must have one of her own. After working to raise the funds to pursue her dream, she embarks on an adventure to Paris that will change not only her own outlook — but the very future of the House of Dior.
Whimsical, yet relatable. Pretentious, yet authentic. That is the magic of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. Films depicting central characters setting out to realize a dream are in no short supply; the examples over the nearly 125 year of cinema are seemingly endless. But what makes this film so special is just how within arm’s reach it feels. Our central character of Ada Harris (Manville) is an everyman–one of us–fears, dreams, and all. She comes from a world not unlike the one in which you and I may find ourselves. Grated, we’re not all housekeepers, but we’re either presently or have been the invisible, under-appreciated worker within our respective vocational fields. We know what it’s like to have a dream, and work to make it happen. That’s the key here–work.
From the moment Mrs. Harris lair eyes on the Christian Dior dress in one of her employer’s wardrobes, she knew right then and there that she needed to own a Dior original! Not to impress others, but because it was so beautiful! For some, it’s a designer dress, for others it may be a particular automobile or work of art. We all dream of owning something that has special meaning to us–it makes us feel happy! But the real accomplishment is when it is the result of hard and smart work. Mrs. Harris is a hard, dedicated worker who values the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to provide for oneself or craft something beautiful for the world to see and appreciate. Mrs. Harris also reminds us that it’s okay to want something exquisite or beautiful because of how it makes (or we believe it will make us) feel. Treat yourself! Moreover, Fabian’s film also provides commentary on the dangers of placing one’s identity into material possessions or status symbols. There is a healthy balance, and Mrs. Harris lives that out! She is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
Lesley Manville’s Mrs. Harris is loved by nearly all whom meet her, because of her genuine spirit of kindness, graciousness, and generosity. Those whom have trouble with Mrs. Harris find her authentic spirit unfitting, disruptive, or something to be taken advantage of. When those with the best of intentions, come to disappoint Mrs. Harris. What I love about Mrs. Harris’ internal and external journeys is that they don’t simply fall into place through some deus ex machina methodology. She’s met with some serious setbacks and heartbreaks along the way. Even when you’re sure it’s gonna work out like it does in the movies, it’s more like one step forward and two steps back. But she doesn’t let that defeat her. Even her great apprehension about leaving her comfort zone, does not stop her. Still, she demonstrates inner-struggles when faced with the comfort of the status quo, or taking a chance on something wonderful!
Even though this movie harkens back to Hollywood’s feel-good movies in a post-WWII world, the characters are not one-dimensional caricatures from a bygone era. Our lead Mrs. Harris, her best friend, and Dior staff all have multiple layers about them…each goes on a journey of self-discovery paired with tangible goals. In others words, in screenwriting terms, each has a well-defined external goal and internal need driving the character. Is every character that well defined? No, but importantly the central and chief supporting ones are. Perhaps you’re a Mrs. Harris, maybe you’re a Natasha (the model), Mrs. Colbert (the legacy employee), or Mr. Fauvel (the accountant), You will likely find yourself as one of the prominent characters in the movie. It’s possible that you may be one of Mrs. Harris’ various employers (which will give you some pause to evaluate how you treat your employees).
Underpinning the A Story, is a story of worker exploitation. Even though the film could have spent a great deal of time on employer-employee relations, the backdrop of workers;’ rights serves as a conduit through which the film is able to comment on how employers should treat employees and even adapt with the changing times. It’s not a heady-handed message, and does come off a little hokey, but it works tonally in this film. There is a documentary by the title Dior and I, and I recommend watching it as a companion piece to this film as it will give you a greater appreciation for Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. Furthermore, you may want to search for the 1992 adaptation starring Dame Angela Lansbury. Manville’s expression (and Fabian’s expression) of the character and story are not the same as the 1992 film, so you can appreciate both for all they respectively bring to this timeless story.
Between Top Gun: Maverick and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, we are seeing the power of timeless stories brought back to the big screen! That’s why these two films work as well as they do: some stories are just that–timeless. Each has a simple plot and complex characters, entertains and inspires. Both of these films uplift the human spirit in ways that seek to bring people together instead of dividing them apart.
Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.
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