de facto film reviews 3 stars

The place is London, and the time is twelve years after the end of World War II. Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) works as a cleaning woman and lives alone in a small basement flat. When we first meet Mrs. Harris, she is debating opening a package from the government which she believes includes information about the status of her husband Eddie, a RAF pilot who has been missing since the war. Encouraged by her best friend Vi (Ellen Thomas), Mrs. Harris finally does open the package and discovers the truth she’s been dreading. Eddie’s plane has finally been located, having been shot down over Poland in 1943. She is sent his wedding ring and a note to await further instructions from the government.

While back at work, Mrs. Harris sees a beautiful Christian Dior gown in the wardrobe of one of her clients. She decides that her new dream is to get a Dior dress of her own. To achieve her new dream, we see Mrs. Harris gamble, take on extra work, and cut expenses to save for the dress, which she’s told will cost nearly 500 pounds. Just as it looks like she may never save enough, there is a charming scene where a RAF representative, a police officer she turned a lost diamond pin in to, and her bookmaker friend Archie (Jason Isaacs) all arrive almost simultaneously with a series of windfalls. So, as the title says, Mrs. Harris goes to Paris.

Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris Review: An Endlessly Charming Comedy That's Ready To Wear For All Moviegoers | My TV Online

The early going of her arrival in Paris is something of a slobs vs. snobs style culture clash, with the unrefined Mrs. Harris running up against Dior directress Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) and snooty Dior clients. But the tables turn once it’s revealed that Mrs. Harris is ready to pay in cash, something desperately needed by a House of Dior currently serving a bevy of wealthy clients expecting to be served on credit. She also gains a benefactor, the Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), who allows her to view the Dior collection presentation as his guest. During her time in Paris as she waits for her dress to be completed, Mrs. Harris becomes involved in the lives of several Dior employees and brings her rugged charm to the City of Lights.

The best reason to see Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is Lesley Manville. Followers of British cinema should know Manville from her frequent collaborations with director Mike Leigh. Indeed, her performance as Mary in Leigh’s Another Year is one of the greatest performances of the 2010s. She also received recognition and an Academy Award nomination for her role in the 2017 Paul Thomas Anderson film Phantom Thread. In an interesting counterpoint to the working class Mrs. Harris, in Phantom Thread, Manville plays Cyril Woodcock, the patrician sister and business partner of Daniel Day Lewis’s haute couture designer Reynolds Woodcock. In Mrs. Harris, Manville gives a wonderful lived-in performance as Ada. There are such a range of emotions in the performance, as we see optimism, determination, joy, and heartbreak during Mrs. Harris’s journey. And Manville plays them all perfectly. You cannot help but root for Mrs. Harris to achieve her dream.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris Is an Elegant, Charming Film | Time

Of the other performances, Thomas, Isaacs, and Wilson are the standouts, with Huppert being terribly underused. A romantic subplot between Dior employees Andre Fauvel (Lucas Bravo) and Natasha (Alba Baptista) feels somewhat shoehorned in. Another great strength of the film is the costuming from designer and three-time Academy Award winner Jenny Beavan (having won most recently for last year’s Cruella). The clothes in this film are gorgeous. I am not a fashion person, but read after seeing the film that the designs were a mix of period Dior replicas and original creations that Beavan felt fit the Dior style of the time. Beavan’s work really helps draw the audience in to the sense of wonder felt by Mrs. Harris. Anthony Fabian’s direction is more stylish and pronounced than I had expected for a period dramedy. There are some interesting uses of slow-motion dolly shots which enhance the dream-like wonder of Mrs. Harris in her interactions at Dior.

The writing, credited to four writers, Carroll Cartwright, Fabian, Keith Thompson, and Hetreed is an interesting mixed bag. There are times when the main point of the film is hammered home a little too hard, and the film suffers a bit from overlength. There is also a moment of anachronistic dialogue (a random use of “you go, girl) which really sucks the air out of Isabelle Huppert’s most important scene. But there is also a fascinating undercurrent of political/cultural commentary that I wasn’t expecting. The film takes place during a garbage strike in Paris, which deglamorizes the setting, with the streets full of trash in most scenes. Communism is mentioned several times, and we see Mrs. Harris gain enough confidence over the course of the film to stand up to the constraints of an English working class life. Overall, this is a charming film with an outstanding lead performance, and should be a draw for adult audiences typically underserved at the modern cinema.