How is it that Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is the third swing at an adaptation of the 1958 Paul Gallico novel, Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, and I’ve never heard of any? The third time must be the charm, as this version of the story is a lovely escape from reality for two hours that, when boiled down, is about something all parents try to teach their children at one time or another: Save up for the things you want. There’s far more to it, but Lesley Manville gives such a joyous performance in a film that will probably go under the radar this year.
The synopsis of Mrs. Harris sounds like that of a novella, and it’s a mystery how three films have been able to stretch it out to a feature-length film. Mrs. Harris follows a working-class, widowed cleaning lady, Ada (Lesley Manville), who becomes obsessed with a Dior dress and embarks on a trip to Paris to get it. I’ve never understood the obsession with high-end fashion, but as Ada says in the film, “Dior is not just a gown, it’s all the elegance and the savvy.” Perhaps this is something that has to be experienced to truly understand.
While on that trip, Ada encounters some new friends, along with some unforeseen difficulties that set her back in her journey including an extended stay in Paris thanks to a Dior accountant named André (Lucas Bravo), being prioritized after the rich (kind of like trying to buy tickets to concerts), and lastly, the most relatable struggle she has: Waking up late to the alarm clock.
Ada is an admirable woman; one who does not complain about her troubles and makes the most of her situations. Even if this is a film about an English woman traveling to Paris, a lot of Ada represents what the American Dream is supposed to be: She’s a woman with a goal in mind (buying her dress) and she uses that goal as motivation when she takes extra work and saves money before going to Paris to accomplish that goal. According to Google, credit cards existed in the 1950s, but even still, Ada pays with cash — something my parents convinced me to do with my first car. The hard-working and perseverant nature of Ada is perhaps what is so endearing about the character. Plus, Manville gives such a spirited performance that you can’t help but fall in love with Ada and root for her as she hits obstacle after obstacle on her mission to get this dress.
Rounding out the cast are Lucas Bravo and Rose Williams, who play Pamela Penrose. Both are great in the scenes they share with Manville, but it’s Williams that really takes advantage of the opportunities given to her with her screen time.
Outside of the performances, the production design is incredible. From the Paris streets and apartments to the Dior showroom, it’s hard not to get engulfed in this world. Production designer Luciana Arrighi — who worked on Sense and Sensibility — deserves plenty of praise for her work here.
Mrs. Harris is the complete antithesis of some of the other films in theaters; it doesn’t blare 80s rock-and-roll over sequences featuring glowing hammers, nor does it have Ethan Hawke hunting down children in a small Colorado town. It’s a small-scale adventure about determination and accomplishing what you put your mind to; at least that’s what I got out of it. Anchored by great performances and lovely production design to bring you into Paris in the 1950s, Mrs. Harris is a solid flick for those seeking an adventure in the theater; an adventure that will cost you a lot less than a Dior dress.
Focus Features will release Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris on July 15.