Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris

In theaters July 15.

THE PLOT:

Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) is a mild-mannered Brit in 1957 London. She toils away cleaning and sewing for her wealthy clients, waiting for her husband to return from WWII.

When Ada learns of her husband’s death, she begins to look forward rather than back.

Saving her pennies and with some luck, she gains enough money to fly to Paris determined to buy a Christian Dior dress for her local London Legion dance.

However, while in France, she discovers that the house of Dior is not what she expected. And sometimes, honesty and charm can overcome wealth and power.

KENT’S TAKE:

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is based upon the beloved novel of the same name. Thankfully, this film does surpass its pedestrian title, but doesn’t quite reach the elegance of the House of Dior.

The working class Ada, along with her pals Vi (Ellen Thomas) and Archie (Jason Isaacs) live a simple life of hard work and struggles, but still enjoy the little things – friendship, a laugh together and a drink at the local pub.

When Ada spies a stunning Christian Dior dress at a client’s home, she falls madly in love with the designer dress – vowing to get one for herself.

Director Anthony Fabian brings audiences a sumptuous film with style and beauty. The simplicity of the era meshes perfectly with Ada’s amicable and straight-forward nature. Paris is enduring a garbage man strike forcing Ada to wade through garbage to get to Dior. She also mucks her way through loss and disrespect in order to reach the realization that sometimes your dreams are not what you envisioned, but are just as fulfilling.

Themes of honesty, hard work, friendship and family fuel this narrative. As Ada’s simplicity, respectful and encouraging nature take hold of acquaintances in Paris, she inspires those around her to reach for their dreams as well. As she comes to the realization that she must continue living, she ceases to be “invisible” to others, moving forward to find fulfillment.

Yes, this sounds a bit Pollyanna-ish in its fairy tale themes and narrative. The film suffers a bit because of it. The setup of the story is slow as Ada attempts to get to Paris. Although used to frame her ordinary life and wealth in the friends who surround her, the means by which she gains her financing for the trip and dress are more luck than hard work – making her opportunity seem less earned than stumbled upon.

Another element that negatively effects the film is the lack of tension. Ada’s setbacks and misfortunes are handled with sad looks, deep sighs and hugs from Vi. Instead of showing this capable sweetheart knuckling down to grit her way to Paris, instead, good fortune falls her way “as if from heaven.” This results in predictable story elements such as the romantic pairings and the “belle of the ball” climax.

However, once she arrives in Paris the story gains momentum as the characters and the House of Dior ignite Ada’s dreamy adventure. Another boon to this story is the skilled cast. Although this fantasy smooths over most of the potential tension, the class struggles in both London and Paris are well defined and help audiences determine the antagonists and heroes.

The film is beautifully shot with deep shadows, soft focuses and saturated lighting giving the 1950s its homey feel – like a favorite pair of slippers. The sets and costumes are wonderful as the gorgeous Dior dresses deserve a cast credit due to the burst of energy they give the film as they splash across the screen. Their elegance, quality and lines are fabulous to behold.

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” may not necessarily be worth a full-priced trip to theaters, but a discounted excusion to the House of Dior is always worth the effort.

CALEB’S TAKE:

Anthony Fabian transports viewers to beautifully recreated 1950s Paris to tell the story of widowed cleaning lady who is awe-struck with a Dior dress. While the costume and set design is immaculate, the film’s plot lacks any meaningful sort of conflict which leaves viewers with nothing more than a mildly positive, but fleeting, feeling.

The titular character of Ada Harris, played with a mature innocence by Lesley Manville, is a working-class war-widow caught up in the drudge of cleaning bourgeois houses in London. She’s stricken with grief, in denial of her husband’s passing, with only Ellen Thomas’s Vi Butterfield and Jason Isaac’s Archie to keep her any meaningful company through her loneliness.

While working, she stumbles upon a couture Dior dress, become instantly starstruck. The dress represents a sense of purpose for Mrs. Harris as she sets out to obtain one for herself.

The film touches on themes of the working class throughout. The Dior dress represents the prized commodity a member of the working class labors for over their career; a commodity which is easily obtained in abundance by bourgeois antagonist Guilaine Londez’s Madame Avallon.

Mrs. Harris is initially unable to afford a trip to Paris to purchase the Dior dress, but a remarkable string of luck places her on the journey to France. This is depicted with Mrs. Harris’ previous losses at the racetracks reversed thanks to the friendship of Archie and the remarkable timing of the British government to award Mrs. Harris with her widow’s pension.

While this is cute, it’s a symptom of the larger issue with this film’s writing: nothing is ever truly at stake for Mrs. Harris. Whenever faced with an obstacle, her good nature or the power of solidarity lifts her up. Even if she were to be thwarted in obtaining the prized Dior dress, she really never would be any worse off than she was before.

In many regards, you don’t question that Mrs. Harris’ unrelenting kindness will be greatly rewarded by the conclusion of the film. While that may not make for the most compelling storytelling, the dreaminess of the film seems to make up for it. What Fabian has done with this film is give us themes about dreams, hope, love and solidarity for regular people. Who could really hate to see that depicted on the big screen?

Caleb Sprous is a journalism student at Webster University, and is an intern for the Webster-Kirkwood Times.