‘Woman. Harris Goes to Paris is exactly what we need right now

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(2.5 stars)

The fashion show within a movie has been a staple of cinematic escapism since the days of The Women and How to Marry a Millionaire to Sex in the City; his vicarious joys never fail.

This is an insight from “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris’, a warm-hearted confection based on Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel, offering a brief but powerful glimpse into mid-century Christian Dior designs, presented in a lavish display case in the master’s Parisian atelier. There, a Battersea house cleaner named Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) delights in a collection of beautifully crafted dresses and day dresses – or ‘frocks’ as Mrs Harris cheerfully calls them. How she came to this special moment is part of the fun of “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” a Cinderella tale of post-war grim and tight-lipped optimism that grows more imaginative as its burly, unfailingly kind heroine overcomes the obstacles in her path.

Directed by Anthony Fabian from a screenplay co-written with Carroll Cartwright, Keith Thompson and Olivia Hetreed, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris tells how Mrs. Harris, while cleaning for a particularly snooty client (Anna Chancellor at her deliciously most imperious), comes across a Dior dress that becomes something of a holy grail. With caution and a few passes at the dog races, Mrs Harris could find the money for a cross-channel junket and a spree of shopping. In a true fairy tale, her teapot would turn into a carriage and those dogs would become feathered white horses. Here Mrs. Harris’s innate decency, with her loyalty, honesty and humanity is the source of her magic.

After almost two hours of “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” packs a lot of thematic material into its razor-thin narrative. Amidst lush shots of gorgeous garments (the Dior pieces were lovingly recreated by Jenny Beavan, the genius behind last year’s “Cruella” ) are vignettes that explore class solidarity, budding young love, possibly budding older love, and the cruelties of middle age goes . (“That’s us, Vi,” Mrs. Harris says to her best friend, played by Ellen Thomas. “Invisible Women.”) Fabian twirls the plot points together with waltz, lively grace, but over time the characterizations feel light and Slightly patronizing, whether it’s Isabelle Huppert exaggerating the cat-faced villain who runs Dior’s front of house, or Jason Isaacs’ dreamy-cute London bookie.

Hover over “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is a character from a whole different movie: Cyril, the Martinet-like sister who played Manville in the 2017 fashion-centric melodrama Phantom Thread. In this performance, the actress seemed to channel her inner Mrs. Danvers to create a chilled woman of immeasurable depth. Here she’s in cozy mode, calling people “ducks” and “pets,” in a turn reminiscent of Geraldine McEwan in a Miss Marple crime novel.

This isn’t a criticism: Manville in every incarnation is one of the great joys of on-screen storytelling, especially now. And even in its most patronizing form, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris provides a lavish, mellow stage for her most endearing qualities to shine through. There are moments when “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is akin to the cinematic equivalent of kindergarten food: over the top but comforting, and perhaps a much-needed respite from a world in danger of spinning.

PG. In the theaters of the region. Contains racy material, swear language and smoking. 115 minutes.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/movies/2022/07/12/mrs-harris-goes-to-paris-movie-review/ ‘Woman. Harris Goes to Paris is exactly what we need right now

Chris Estrada

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