Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Posted on July 14, 2022 at 3:20 pmB +
|Lowest Recommended Age:
|Some alcohol and tipsiness
|References to wartime deaths and injuries
|Date Released to Theaters:
|July 14, 2022
“To be possessed is an admirable reason for possessing,” wrote Dorothy L. Sayers. Blaise Pascal said, “the heart has its reasons which reason does not know.” Those who are lucky enough to want some special object not for prestige but purely for love and a deep connection to the item’s artistry or history will understand the story of a shy Cockney woman who develops a passion for an haute couture dress.
“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is a sweet Cinderella story about a cleaning lady who dreams of a Dior gown. It is based on the book by Paul Gallico, an author who was determined to work in a variety of genres, and so films based on his work include the classic disaster film “The Poseidon Adventure,” the charming fantasy musical “Lili,” and an earlier version of this story starring Angela Lansbury, Omar Sharif, and Diana Rigg. (NOTE: the original book and the first movie are called “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris,” to reflect the dropped h’s of the Cockney accent.)
It is set in post-WWII London. Mrs. Harris (exquisitely played by Lesley Manville) and her best friend Vi (Ellen Thomas) are close friends who spend their days cleaning up the careless messes of people who have enough money to be careless. Through them, Mrs. Harris glimpses lives bigger and more colorful than her own. One of her clients is Lady Dent, who somehow never seems to have the cash on hand to pay her (Anna Chancellor, “Duckface” from “Four Weddings and a Funeral”). There is also is a high-strung aspiring actress, and a rakish, derby-hatted bachelor (played with a cheeky wink by Christian McKay) who has an endless stream of “nieces” leaving in the morning wearing their dresses from the evening before.
Mrs. Harris still has a small unopened package sent to her by her husband when he was in the military in WWII, the last communication she received from him. It is now more than 10 years later and she has not been able to bring herself to open it. Finally, she does and sees what she did not want to see before. He was killed in action. It is not a coincidence that this happens just as she becomes mesmerized by an haute couture gown Lady Dent has bought for 500 pounds (about $15,000 in today’s dollars). It is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen and she decides she must get one for herself.
She assembles 500 pounds through scrimping, doing extra work, including “invisible repairs” sewing, and an assortment of unexpected windfalls. She has just enough for a one-day trip to Paris to get the gown. But once she gets there she learns first that their haughty director (Isabelle Huppert) does not want a shabby little Englishwoman anywhere near their brand and their other customers, and second, even if she is able to purchase a gown it will be made to order for her and require two weeks of fittings. And so, her adventures in Paris begin. (NOTE: Dior participated in helping to re-create some of their stunning fashions.)
It is not just her mending that is invisible. Mrs. Harris herself begins to learn that she has felt invisible, not worthy of being seen. Like the contents of the package, Mrs. Harris has been hidden and enclosed for a long time. Acknowledging her yearning and insisting that she deserves to own an item of beauty and artistry helps her locate a new openness to others and determination on other issues. At first, she relates to her new acquaintances with what she knows, cleaning and cooking. But she discovers through their responses to her that she has more to contribute.
Manville is a perfect choice for this role (and for pretty much any other, too — see her Mike Leigh performances and her appearance in a very different haute couture film, “The Phantom Thread”). While Mrs. Harris may not always see herself that way, Manville shows us in every moment that the character’s discovery of her courage and value is as much a work of art as the meticulously constructed gowns of Dior.
Parents should know that this film has mild rude humor and references to wartime injuries and death.
Family discussion: Have you ever wanted something the way Mrs. Harris wants the gown? Why was it so important to her? How did her experiences in Paris change the way she saw herself? How to the references to Sartre‘s existentialism relate to her story? Did you notice the “zoom dolly” shots made famous by Stephen Spielberg in “Jaws?” What do they tell us?