Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris movie review: Lesley Manville and Isabelle Huppert in “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris”

A widowed cleaning lady in late 1950s London pursues her dream to own an haute couture Dior gown in this middle-aged Cinderella story, adapted from the Paul Gallico novel.

In Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Lesley Manville plays a woman who is the opposite of Cyril, the main character she played in Phantom Thread. This is a very nice way for the two roles to go together. This character moved around a London couture atelier in the middle of the 1950s with an air of icy control. She was fiercely protective of her dress designer brother and his classic designs. As Mrs. Harris, Manville wants to get into the same world of fashion and privilege as Mrs. Harris, even though her age and class make her seem like an unlikely guest. The best part of her performance in this wonderful fairy tale for adults is how her pure heart and natural goodness softly pry open those locked doors.

Manville is great at playing characters who are hard, cold, or even bad. In Let Him Go, she played a cruelly tyrannical matriarch, and in Harlots, she was one of the most cunning schemers. So it’s surprising to see her turn into a humble working-class woman who isn’t mean or smart in the least. The radiance she brings to the role, along with clever screenplay expansions and Anthony Fabian’s light-touch direction, give these Focus Features release a considerable lift over the last adaptation of Paul Gallico’s novel, a sweet but forgettable 1992 TV movie that starred Angela Lansbury.

Ada Harris is a wonderful character because she is not an arriviste. She is not an ambitious climber. Instead, she is a woman who doesn’t try to hide the fact that she is a house cleaner who works for well-off Londoners, scrubbing their floors and bathrooms. But when she sees a shimmering couture dress from the House of Dior that was bought by a rich client (Anna Chancellor) who always says she’s broke when it’s time to pay her bills, Mrs. Harris starts to imagine what it would be like to own a dress like that.

Mrs. Harris finally found out in 1957 that her beloved RAF pilot husband, Eddie, had died 12 years before when he was shot down near Warsaw. She could use a little grace or even magic in her life. But the movie goes beyond Mrs. Harris’ situation to fight for the right of all invisible women to be seen and appreciated as individuals, just as much as the perfect models who wear Dior clothes in the exclusive salon on Paris’ Avenue Montaigne.