Movie Review – Mrs Harris Goes To Paris (2022)

Principal Cast : Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Ellen Thomas, Rose Williams, Jason Isaacs, Anna Chancellor, Christian McKay, Freddie Fox, Roxane Duran, Philippe Bertin.
Synopsis: A widowed cleaning lady in 1950s London falls madly in love with a couture Dior dress, and decides that she must have one of her own.


Soapy, sentimental claptrap, the 2022 film version (and second English version, following the 1992 TV movie starring Angela Lansbury in the title role) of Paul Gallico’s 1958 book is a brightly coloured, homogeneous and utterly cliched fish-out-of-water story that Hollywood absolutely delights in. I know, I know, the film has legions of fans around the world but honestly, the story is so predictable, the situations so fantastical, I chortled throughout in a way I don’t think I was intended to. I get it, Mrs Harris Goes To Paris is meant to win us over with a charm similar to that of Paddington Bear, and to its credit the film does make Ada Harris’ arrival at the House of Dior feel very dreamlike and fantasy-driven, but the mawkish kitschiness of it started to wear itself out very early on and never recovered.

Leslie Manville plays Ada Harris, a London cleaning lady who becomes obsessed with obtaining an haute couture dress from French fashion icon Christian Dior, much to the amusement of her disbelieving friends. After managing to luck into a small fortune thanks to the death of her husband in World War II some years prior, Ada travels to Paris, meets various nonces at Dior, has issues getting a dress, and proceeds to upend the fashion industry completely through sheer plucky luck and the best of a British stiff-upper-lip. There’s an affable fashion lover in Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), a beautiful ingenue hoping to transition into a higher education (Alba Baptista) and an account manager for Dior with a heart for the ingenue (Andrew Fauvel), not to mention the uppity, mean-spirited Dior director, Claudine (Isabelle Huppert), who makes like hell for the British tourist. There’s plenty of convenience, luck, gorgeous cinematography and my-heart-is-full schmaltz to be had here, most of which comes down to Manville’s glassy-eyed turn as Mrs Harris and an amenable supporting cast.

On some level, Mrs Harris Goes To Paris should have been a knockout home run. Sadly, I couldn’t get into it the way so many of you have. I found it trite, predictable, often overly sentimental and at times gratingly pretentious, and I’m a guy who usually loves these low-key romanticized pieces of fiction. I struggled to really find my footing with Leslie Manville’s characterisation of Ada Harris, flickering from stupefying ignorant to worldly wise in the breadth of the English Channel, and consequently the tone of the film never clicked with me. I know, I know, knocking this film feels a lot like kicking kittens, and to be honest I doubt I’m the target demographic for the film but I really, really did try and enjoy myself. Some of the humour works (Jason Isaacs again proves he’s such a capable performer in nearly any role, I shit you not) and some of the emotional beats do carve out a bit of drama (the scene in which Harris’ husband is declared dead before she realises she’s in for a bit of money coming her way, resonated with me), but on the whole I found this syrupy mix of Forest Gump-esque convenience, Devil Wears Prada costumery, and overblown technicolour “movie magic” too far-fetched for my liking, even though I acknowledge the story’s heightened fantasy façade.

Mrs Harris Goes To Paris ticks all the boxes for “heartwarming” and “lovely” and “effortless to watch” and I’d be foolish to think there’s not a bunch of you reading this right now who might be incandescent with rage. I get it, I really do, I know I should have had the cockles of my heart warmed by this dithering old biddy and her quest for an expensive dress, but I just couldn’t get into it. It’s hard to get through a film when you spend most of the time waiting for the various plot points to resolve almost exactly as you expect them to, it made my teeth grate. So if it’s undemanding sentimentalism you’re after, go right at it. Mrs Harris Goes To Paris didn’t appeal to me, it’s surely a beautifully mounted, deeply cliched production that never quite managed to escape the chasm of problematic tropes and archetypes presented therein. Soft-hearted viewers will lap it up. Hardened cinema-purists will scoff.

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