Saturday, March 4, 2023

Stubs - Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris


Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022) Starring: Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Ellen Thomas, Rose Williams, Jason Isaacs Directed by Anthony Fabian. Screenplay by Carroll Cartwright, Anthony Fabian, Keith Thompson, Olivia Hetreed. Based on Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico (1958). Produced by Anthony Fabian, Xavier Marchand, Guillaume Benski. UK-Hungary Run time: 115 minutes. Color. Drama, Comedy, Fantasy

Sometimes lost in this day and age of big budget special effects-laden movies are the ones that deal with stories of ordinary people. Such a film is Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, based on the novel Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico. The book had been adapted three times prior, all for television. The first was as an episode of the anthology show Studio One in 1958. A German television adaptation, Ein Kleid von Dior, followed in 1982. In 1992, the story returned to American TV, with Angela Lansbury, Diana Rigg, and Omar Sharif.

The story takes place in 1957 and opens in London. Mrs. Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) is a World War II widow who makes a living as a housekeeper for several clients, including Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor), Giles Newcombe (Christian McKay) and an aspiring actress, Pamela Penrose (Rose Williams). Her best friends, from their days in defense plant, is Vi Butterfield (Ellen Thomas). One of their friends is Archie (Jason Issacs), who works at the dog tracks and fancies himself the ladies’ man.

Pamela Penrose (Rose Williams) is one of Mrs.Harris' clients.

It is while she’s cleaning Lady Dant’s bedroom that she spies a Christian Dior dress and becomes so enamored with it that having such a dress becomes her goal in life. Mrs. Harris saves every dime she can get her hand on to raise the £500 it will cost to buy such a dress. When she reaches 100 quid, she bets it all on a dog called Haute Couture, despite Archie’s trying to talk her out of it. Naturally, the dog loses and there goes her nest egg. Distraught, she takes to bed.

Vi Butterfield (Ellen Thomas) and Mrs. Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) at the dog races.

Her fortunes change almost immediately. An RAF Officer (Freddie Fox) comes to talk to her about her husband, whose body was only recently identified. He informs her that she is owed a widow’s compensation. While he’s there, a policeman arrives with Vi to inform her that she’s due a reward for having turned in a found ring to the police. And if that weren’t enough, Archie comes by to tell her that he had held back £10 from her wager and bet it on a sure thing for her and that it paid off handsomely.

Suddenly, Mrs. Harris has the £500 she needs and she’s off to Paris. However, when she gets there, she doesn’t know where to go. She ends up at a train station, where she is befriended by some winos who live there. One takes her the next morning to the House of Dior.

Mrs. Harris befriends model  Natasha (Alba Baptista).

While still carrying her suitcase, she helps Natasha (Alba Baptista), who is running late and has slipped. She is in such a hurry that Natasha leaves her purse and Mrs. Harris chases her down to give it back to her.

Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) is not happy to have Mrs. Harris show up at the salon.

Once inside, she tells Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) that she’s there to buy a frock. Claudine is unimpressed with Mrs. Harris and has more important clients coming for a show of Dior’s new fashions. She is almost escorted out when one of the guests, Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), insists that she attend as his guest.

Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson) asks Mrs. Harris to be his guest at the showing.

Marguerite (Roxane Duran), one of the assistant at Dior, is impressed by Mrs. Harris and points her out to the models before the show is to start.

The dress: Temptation. Mrs. Harris wants it but is denied.

Mrs. Harris’ attendance is not appreciated by everyone, including Madame Avallon (Guilaine Londez), the wife of the Paris Garbage King, who is attending the show with her daughter, Mathilde (Dorottya Ilosvai). Madame Avallon considers it an insult to have to sit next to Mrs. Harris. There are two dresses which catch Mrs. Harris’ eye. She is about to order the one she really wants, called Temptation, when Avallon usurps her by ordering it, too. Since Avallon is considered a valuable customer, Mrs. Harris has to select her second choice.

Mrs. Harris seems happy with her second choice during a fitting.

She is startled to learn that there is much more than just picking out the dress and taking it home. Colbert is happy to see her leave but André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo), an accountant, overrules Colbert. Not only is he appreciative of Mrs. Harris having cash, which the House is desperately short of, but he offers to let her stay with him, in his sister’s room, who is away.

Natasha gives Mrs. Harris a ride to André's apartment.

Natasha gives her a lift to André’s apartment. They find it to be a mess, perhaps the stereotypical bachelor pad. They both take to cleaning it up. André, who has a crush on Natasha, is embarrassed when he learns that she’s seen his place in such disarray, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Mrs. Harris has cooked dinner and Natasha stays. She and André discover that they have several things in common, including their interest in existential philosophy.

Over dinner, André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo) and Natasha find they have a lot in common.

The next day, Mrs. Harris is presented flowers from the Marquis, who wants to take her out to dinner. At the cabaret, they see Natasha, who is there entertaining clients of Dior’s. Mrs. Harris and the Marquis dance and drink the night away.

The Marquis takes Mrs. Harris out on the town.

The following morning, Mrs. Harris is late to her fitting and looking for any excuse, Colbert calls off the order and promises to refund her deposit. However, Marguerite takes Mrs. Harris on a tour of the plant and she ends up working as a cutter. Her reputation improved, her order is back as well.

Mrs. Harris and André see Natasha at a film opening with another man.

While walking with André, they come across a film premiere and see Natasha on the arm of the lead actor. Mrs. Harris tries to encourage André to say something to Natasha about his feelings, but he tells her to leave it alone.

On a second date with the Marquis, he reveals his feelings from her are based on a relationship he had with a charwoman at the private British school he attended when he was six. Hurt by the comparison, Mrs. Harris walks out.

The day her dress is ready, there are layoffs at Dior, due to their money shortage. Some of their best clients never actually pay for their dresses, including British royalty. But Mrs. Harris doesn’t like what’s going on and, gathering the workers together, she goes to see Christian Dior (Philippe Bertin) and insists that he listen to André’s ideas about what can be done. Colbert is not pleased to be removed from the meeting.

Dior likes André’s ideas, which is basically to make Dior more accessible to everyone, including selling perfumes and accessories with his name on them. This will not only save the jobs but also grow the company.

However, Colbert leaves and André and Mrs. Harris go to her apartment and convince her not to leave the company.

After finding her, André talks Natasha into staying with him in Paris.

They do learn that Natasha has also left Dior and is planning to move from France. This is apparently not the life she wanted to live. Mrs. Harris and André manage to intercept her at the train station, where André convinces her to stay in Paris with him.

Dress in hand, Mrs. Harris returns to London. Almost as soon as she’s unpacked, Pamela Penrose shows up at her door. She is about to have dinner with a producer who can make her a star but the dress she has to wear is ruined. Mrs. Harris graciously lets her wear her Dior dress to the dinner.

The next day, when she goes to clean Pamela’s apartment, she finds the dress is burnt. Apparently, in a freak accident, the dress caught fire and while it provided Pamela with great press, the dress is ruined. Disheartened, Mrs. Harris quits her work with Pamela and throws the dress off the bridge.

Tired of being mistreated, she then quits Lady Dant’s employ, insisting that full restitution is paid to her.

Back at her apartment, Mrs. Harris is surprised by a large box and flowers delivered to her. In the box, is the Dior dress she had originally wanted, Temptation. Apparently, it turns out the Garbage King has been arrested for embezzlement and Mrs. Avallon had to back out of the order. Having read about what happened to her dress, everyone at Dior wanted to make good and using her measurements, refitted the dress for her.

It is at a dance that Mrs. Harris makes a big entrance wearing the dress and catches the eye of Archie, who dances with her.

This film version differs from the book when it comes to the ending. In the book, the dress is ruined but instead of a replacement, Mrs. Harris is left to reflect that the experiences she had in pursuit of the dress were worth its loss. I don’t know if this is also the ending of the other adaptations but this one is better.

I will admit that I was not familiar with most of the actors in the film, including the lead, Lesley Manville. Even though she’s been acting on stage, screen and television, I don’t believe I had ever seen her in anything before. She brings a certain dignity to the role of a cleaning woman and shows that people are so much more than what they do for a living.

Similarly, even though Isabelle Huppert has had a long career, I’m not all that familiar with her work. She really breathes life into Claudine Colbert and helps to make her a three-dimensional character rather than just being an adversary to Mrs. Harris.

I could pretty much say the same things about Lambert Wilson (Marquis de Chassagne), Alba Baptista (Natasha) and Lucas Bravo (André). For me they were unknown but after Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, I’m a fan. They all do good work in the film and I look forward to the next time I might see them on film.

Overall, I really enjoyed the film. Not only is the acting very good but it did a very good job at setting the time and place the story is supposed to take place. It should be noted that the film has been nominated for Best Costume Design for Jenny Beavan’s work, ostensibly for recreating not only the fashion of the time but also for the haute couture of designer Christian Dior. Go for the fashion but stay for the story.

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