Friday Film Review--"Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris"
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is based on a 1958 book by Paul Gallico. His books, The Poseidon Adventure, Pride of the Yankees, and Matilda among others, also made their way to the big screen.
It was first adapted to film in 1992 with Angela Lansbury in the lead role. In the 2022 version, Lesley Manville is our delightful heroine Ada Harris, a hard-working house cleaner with a heart of gold.
For Manville, this is a much lighter and happier role than the usual characters she portrays. Like Mrs. Harris, Manville grew up in a working class family and is a woman in her sixties wanting to remain relevant, visible and in charge of her life.
This mid-century fairy tale is very much a feel-good story with a happy ending, but the arc to get there isn’t without sadness, struggles and pain. On the surface, the story is simple, but many subtle messages exist throughout. Not having read the book, I don’t know if, or how far the film drifts from the original story.
Director Anthony Fabian diversified the cast by re-creating Ada’s best friend Vi as a Jamaican immigrant. A whole generation came from Jamaica to work in the UK, and they are very underrepresented in books and films of the period. He wanted to rectify that. He made a few other additions to the story by pulling in characters or elements that would eventually appear later in the book series but readers loyal to the books will not mind.
Set in 1957 London and Paris, the story is filled with social justice issues and struggles of the working class, whether they are mopping floors in London, collecting garbage in Paris, or stitching together elegant haute couture at Dior.
The director strives for authenticity at every level. Using actual blueprints from the building that housed Dior in the 50’s, an exact recreation of the interior becomes significant when Mrs. Harris tours the salon’s various departments.
The Dior fashions are characters themselves. Costume Designer, Jenny Beavan, an Oscar winner for her work in Cruella, not only dressed the cast, but she also had the incredible task of re-creating at least 20 exact Dior replicas.
There are three more books in the series and this film laid plenty of possible steppingstones to one or more sequels.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is rated PG and runs 1 hour and 55 fashionable minutes.