We’ve all want something, just for ourselves. It could be a really expensive lipstick, or a designer bag or maybe a car. Something that is a little frivolous and not necessarily needed; but we just want it, just for us. This overwhelming desire is at the heart of Anthony Fabian’s film Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.
Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) is a simple woman. She’s a cleaner with many happy clients and while the job doesn’t pay much, it’s enough for her. She patiently still waits for her husband Eddie to return from the war which has been over for a decade.
One day, she notices a beautiful Dior dress in a client’s wardrobe. She’s completely in love with the glittery, glamorous dress and desires one for herself. After a few lucky incidents involving money, Ada travels to Paris to buy a dress from Dior, but not all goes to plan. Does it ever, really?
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is the epitome of a crowd-pleasing, feel-good movie. Do not dismiss this film as pure fluff though; director Anthony Fabian infuses the narrative with some subtle politics about class and workers’ rights, more or less successfully. The strongest element in Fabian’s film is taking the invisible women in history and making them visible.
You might say Ada is being frivolous by buying a dress she essentially has no use for, but then again, I own about 29 different shades of lipstick, none of which I can be bothered to paint my lips with every morning. We all love a bit of retail therapy; buying something nice makes us feel good about ourselves and it’s this exact, very relatable and recognisable sentiment that powers Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris.
At times, Fabian’s film slips into being a tad naive. More could have also been said about Ada’s unexpected desire to feel romantic love again, after finally accepting the death of her Eddie. Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris is surprisingly full of ideas and themes, sometimes so full it can’t properly explore them.
Lesley Manville is brilliant as Ada. She is simply magnetic and injects the character with pathos. Isabelle Huppert feels somewhat miscast or perhaps she’s just on autopilot, but her performance is the most dull out of the lot. Lucas Bravo and Alba Baptista have wonderful chemistry as two young lovers, but sometimes their subplot feels completely irrelevant to what Fabian otherwise wants to interrogate with his film.
Fabian also smartly builds two completely different worlds in London and Paris. Post-war London looks earthy and dull, whereas Paris is illuminated and magical. There is a sense of luxury to Paris, but Ada brings a homely warmth to it as she stays with Bravo’s Fauvel.
Yet, there is a sense of insignificance that plagues the film. Its tone is too light for it to be remembered for the meatier, more serious themes. Fabian struggles to create a tone that would better underline the them, while retaining the fluffy outside of the film. There is much to be enjoyed, but this might ultimately prove too disposable for its own good. The film works best as an escapist fairytale and as such, it’s ravishing.
Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris is in cinemas now.