Mrs. Harris goes to Paris

There’s more than meets the eye in Anthony Fabian’s Cinderella-like adaptation of Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel Mrs. ‘Arris goes to Paristhough the transformative power of a stunningly beautiful dress, and its ability to make the once invisible one visible to the world, remains the heart of the film.

Ada Harris (Lesley Manville re-enters the world of mid-century high fashion but in a very different role from her frosty Cyril Woodcock in ghost yarn) is a good-natured housekeeper from Battersea. It’s 1957 and she’s just been told she’s been officially widowed by the War Department after her husband disappeared over ten years ago. Completely reliable, she cleans for a variety of clients, some of whom like the obnoxious Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor) are happy to exploit her labor but not so happy when she asks for her salary. Lady Dant spent £500 on a dazzling Christian Dior dress which Ada treats with reverent longing, inspiring her to one day go to Paris and buy such a marvel for herself.

Ada’s life in London isn’t filled with drudgery; she has her friends Vi (Ellen Thomas) and the cheeky bookmaker, Archie (an excellent performance by Jason Isaacs) to keep her company in the local pub, but she feels her life is on hold for a long time as she hopefully waits -the return of her husband Eddie. She has reached middle age and no one really sees her – a state of anonymity that many women face after crossing the threshold of 50. A small series of good fortune; including a win in the Football Pools, a reward for turning in a diamond clip to the police, and a round win at the local dog races, and an unexpected pension from War Widow, means she can finally do something right to. She books an overnight trip to Paris and visits Dior’s famous atelier at 30 Avenue Montaigne.

Having no real idea how fashion houses work, Ada finds that she is initially barred from entering Dior’s 10th anniversary presentation of her collection. She comes up against the Cyril Woodcock of the film, the severe Madame Colbert by Isabelle Huppert. Despite Ada’s protests and presenting her roll of notes to Madame Colbert, claiming that she “saved every penny she earned” to buy a dress, class barriers rule her out. She is rescued by a young accountant, André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo), and is escorted into the show by the widower the Marquis de Chassange (Lambert Wilson). A fairy tale indeed, but one that the public wants for Ada.

The showcase of Dior’s “New Look” dresses and suits (designed by multi-award-winning designer Jenny Beavan) has Ada gasping with delight – seeing such exquisite work within her reach is almost overwhelming. Her first desire is to buy a stunning dark red tea dress called “Temptation”, but when a particularly mean-spirited customer claims it for herself, Ada chooses a marvelous green dress called “Venus”. What Ada doesn’t understand is that designer dresses aren’t something you can just pick and pay for; there’s a long process of adjustments and customizations and the soonest she can hope to take delivery of ‘Venus’ is a fortnight.

Thanks to André’s kindness, she was offered accommodation in Paris. She also quickly bonded with the current “face of Dior” – Sartre reading Natasha (Alba Baptista) and the two form a friendship that extends to André (who passionately discusses existentialism with Natasha). A conversation at a dinner party becomes philosophical when each character reveals that they are, by Sartre’s definition, only appearing as one thing. Ada is more than a cleaner, André is more than an accountant, and Natasha is definitely more than an exposed model.

Ada’s stay in Paris teaches her the value of having a dream, whether that dream is simply to own a beautiful dress – a scene in the workshop showing how the clothes are put together is filmed as a daydream by the director of the photography Felix Wiedemann. Ada exclaims “It’s not couture, it’s moonlight! Am I in heaven? Ada manages to charm most of the Dior employees, including the picky and temperamental head of couture Monsieur Carré (Bertrand Poncet). The Dior house is in financial difficulty; the exclusivity of haute couture has led them to near bankruptcy and the company begins to lay off staff. Ada, a fervent working-class woman who understands that her class supports the elite, puts the workers on strike until André is able to explain a possible solution to Dior’s monetary problems by opening the label to a tiered system which means ordinary people can buy the Marque Dior.

Ada’s character could be considered a bit exhausting if it weren’t for Lesley Manville’s exceptionally nuanced performance. When a possible romance turns out to be something else, audiences can feel their palpable weariness with how it’s been downplayed. His adventures in Paris are wonderfully captured, and his wonder for the City of Light is reflected in how some Parisians come to love his unassuming goodwill towards others.

Mrs. Harris goes to Paris can be considered a harmless and charming drama/comedy, but there is a strong message about looking beyond stereotypes to find the person behind them. Sartre wrote of making “The Invisible Visible” in “Being and Nothingness” – and as much as Gallico’s novel and Fabian’s film owe Charles Perrault’s classic “Cinderella” fairy tale, it must also to contemporary Gallic philosophical discourse and class. awareness. Ada is a fairy godmother, she is also Cinderella, but above all, she learns the value of self-determination.

The ending may feel stale and rushed, but it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise enchanting adventure about an ordinary woman who was always humble, extraordinary in her own way, she just didn’t manage to see it until a bit of magic; mostly of his own making, came into his life. The third act has a lot going for it, and the arc in which it ties it all together is a little too silky.

However, Mrs. Harris goes to Paris is a jewel that shines like the trimmings of a dress. The film avoids denigrating any of its main characters. People are more than their class or their job – they are the sum of their imaginations. The lessons in Mrs. Harris goes to Paris are never didactic but deserve attention. Never stop hoping; be ready to embrace something new; reward hard work; and finally find a moment to express what makes you special – it’s never too late to discover something transcendent in the world.

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