- Directed by: Anthony Fabian
- Starring: Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Ellen Thomas, Jason Isaacs
- Drama/Comedy/History | PG | 1 hr 55 min
By Reed Ripley
Every so often, a film comes along that tries to remind everyone good things come to good people. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris does just that, even if the real world doesn’t stand by that phrase often enough.
It’s so earnest, and so authentically so, that it’s impossible not to fall for its charm (unless you’re a big fan of keeping couture dresses out of the working class’s hands, I suppose). It’s about an unapologetically hopeful housekeeper, Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) chasing her high fashion dreams from the streets of London to the halls of the House of Dior, despite the odds. Simple enough, and simply effective.
The story is especially poignant given its context. Rather than defaulting to generic European period drama pastiche, the setting is well-defined: first London, then Paris, in 1957. Both cities are still recovering from World War II’s trauma, shown broadly through economic woes and class divides, and specifically through Mrs. Harris’ grief and unmooring after her husband is finally declared killed in action after a war-era plane crash.
Mrs. Harris’ unwavering optimism and unrelenting kindness cut right through that tension. Her bright light in a dark time lifts everyone who crosses her path, including the film’s audience. She’s a wonderful character, made even more wonderful through Manville, who’s able to convey warmth and positivity despite a constant, simmering sadness.
This could have easily stayed a light, breezy, shallow jaunt about an affable housekeeper on a fashion adventure in Paris, but the filmmakers clearly wanted more. Mrs. Harris is way more technically sound and interesting than it has any right to be, at least by the standards of your typical feel-good affair. The production and costume design are the stars, as they need to be in a European period piece about fashion, but it doesn’t stop there.
For example, there are some notable camera flourishes, including a couple dolly zooms on Mrs. Harris (a dolly zoom moves the camera away from the subject while zooming in to mess with perspective; think Roy Scheider in the “get out of the water” scene from Jaws and plenty of Hitchcock shots). Dolly zooms are meant to disorient, and here they’re used to show how a Dior dress throws Mrs. Harris for a loop. It’s not going to win an Oscar for cinematography, but it’s one of several much-appreciated attentions to detail and craft that help the film’s heart burst through.
Manville necessarily carries things, but there’s also a deep bench of talented performers around her. Each one gets a moment or two to make an impression, and they don’t waste the chances the film gives them. The only drawback to all those collective moments is they spread the characters too thin. It leaves very little space for anyone outside Mrs. Harris to develop, and it’s one of the only parts that feels thin.
Amidst all Mrs. Harris’ falling upward, there’s a knowing wink to the unlikelihood of all the good fortune. The truth is life isn’t fair, and a real-life analogue to Mrs. Harris doesn’t have things work out so well simply because she puts such positive energy into the universe. The film knows that, and it doesn’t care.
It’s a fairy tale, and fairy tales aren’t meant to depict real life. They’re meant to spark hope and joy, and there’s plenty of that to go around in Mrs. Harris.
You can find more review from local movie critic Reed Ripley at Ripleysreviews.com