Watching Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is like stepping through a portal in time—not back to the 1950s, the movie’s setting, but to the 1990s, when sweet-natured, visually resplendent pictures like this were plentiful. In this adaptation of a popular 1958 novel by Paul Gallico, kindhearted London cleaning woman Ada Harris (Lesley Manville), a war widow, falls in love with a client’s swoon-worthy Christian Dior gown and vows to buy one for herself, even though the price is far beyond her means. With some luck, she scrapes the money together and treks to Paris, where she’s at first rebuffed by the master’s right-hand woman (a frosty-chic Isabelle Huppert), only to win over everyone at the house with her forthright warmth.
This is a story about following one’s dreams and then learning there’s a lesson attached to those dreams—you might catch more than a perfume whiff of sanctimoniousness here. But it’s rare to find movies that value the mere idea of beauty, and this one—directed by Anthony Fabian—does so unapologetically. For some of us, the words 1950s couture fashion show are tantamount to summoning a cat with “Here, kitty-kitty,” and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris does not disappoint: the film was made with Dior’s cooperation, and the featured garments are so gorgeously detailed, you might wish to examine them at close range.
Manville’s performance has a similar understated elegance. Her Ada is uncompromising not just in her fashion sense but also in defining her own happiness. If she has all the twinkling charm of the nighttime Eiffel Tower, she also stands just as proud. In the end, Ada creates her own enchantment. The dress is just a red herring—albeit a gorgeous one.
July 16, 2022 at 12:42AM Stephanie Zacharek