In 1992, director Anthony Pullen Shaw adapted Paul Gallico’s novel “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris” into a film starring Angela Lansbury and Omar Sharif. The book was the first in a series about a maid who works for well-to-do clients who treat her as though she owes them something.
Always kind and well manipulated, Mrs. Harris does whatever they wish and as quickly as possible. She’s a lovely soul who seems to always be taken advantage of with her own permission.
With how I felt and how you’ll feel about this film, I hope Gallico’s novel, unlike the 1992 film, will inspire the filmmakers to continue with the series and perhaps create a franchise. It would be most welcome by the audiences of today. Who won’t fall in love with a good Cinderella story?
I can’t proceed without mentioning the 2017 movie “Phantom Thread” that Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed. It starred Daniel Day-Lewis and one Lesley Manville from this film. It, too, is set in the post-war 1950s and has a similar theme to the Mrs. Harris storyline. However, who becomes the antagonist in the new film is the part Manville plays in “Phantom Thread.” Playing both parts? What a delectable casting decision. And Manville has the skills to carry it off.
You will feel deeply for Ada Harris throughout the film, something easy to do when you look into her sweet yet lonely eyes. Not long in, you learn that she’s officially a war widow. She needs to work and not think about her loss, so she gets to work.
While cleaning the house of the pretentious Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor), she spies a Christian Dior dress. She holds it up in the mirror, admiring how such a dress makes her look. Since seeing it, she can think of nothing else. She’s now a fan of couture. Since there’s no reason not to, she decides she must have a dress like that in her life and starts saving to go to Paris to buy one from the House of Dior itself.
There are people in her life who encourage her, but also try to bring her down to earth when she gets into the big planning stages of what seems like an impossible trip. Bestie Vi (Ellen Thomas) and her pal Archie (Jason Isaacs), to whom she appears to be somewhat attracted, support her but also save her from her haute couture dreams. Then, out of nowhere, money comes pouring in from every direction. She gets that ticket to Paris, and the story suddenly turns into a fairy tale of sorts.
She goes into Dior and, largely naïve, finds herself getting an invitation to watch the show. So delightful, she starts making friends and even gets a dress made just for her. Walking in flashing cash didn’t hurt that transaction. But she also makes a few enemies.
Ada is not their usual clientele, and the haughtier in the store wants nothing to do with her. She’s told she’s invisible, but she knows in that dress, no one is.
Being there, she’s as excited as a child about to open her Christmas toys on Christmas morning. Through her, cinematographer Felix Wiedemann shows us Paris in an engaging and seductive way. In a car, Mrs. Harris takes it all in. We see the city from her perspective, not just from the angle of her bewildered face, but also, at the same time, from the window behind her head. It was brilliant, as was the film. From the beginning to the end, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is as charming and sweet as she is. I think this should be made every now and then, so actresses get a chance to be this wonderful character.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Writer/Director: Anthony Fabian
Starring: Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Jason Isaacs, Anna Chancellor, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Rose William, Ellen Thomas
Run Time: 1h 32m