Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is one of those underrated movie experiences I wish happened more often. The movie is built as a pure unadulterated cleanse: it washes away your problems for two hours while your spirit and life force gets restored because of what you’re witnessing onscreen. I personally know jack sh*t about Christian Dior dresses, but the minute Mrs. Harris (Lesley Manville) sees one of those gorgeous artistic creations, you’re transported into her fantasy and reborn a sweeter, better person than you went in. Shots fired Coco Chanel! Let’s see you pull that off!
In the 1950’s London, Mrs. Ada Harris cleans houses with her best friend Vi (Ellen Thomas), coping with the loss of her husband in WWII a decade earlier. Fate intervenes, and she’s given a nice widower pension lump sum. Ada uses that money to live out her dream: fly to Paris, and buy a Christian Dior dress she fantasizes about when cleaning houses. Along the way, she draw the attention of all of Dior’s artists: head model Natasha (Alba Baptista), accountant Andre (Lucas Bravo), Dior director Claudine (Isabelle Huppert), and clientele like the Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), who are either enamored with or dismissive of Mrs. Harris’s relentless pursuit of her little fantasy.
Because even though there aren’t any elves, rings, or strange medieval creatures, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is absolute sepia toned fantasy. Each scene feels filtered through either a glossy or sunset filter, painting every setting as beautifully as possible, even with a trash strike going on. I’ve been converted to Christian Dior dressmaking; the fashion show Mrs. Harris sees truly feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Fortunately, this movie is more than surface level dress fantasy though. This movie dares to say that if you work hard, and are kind to others, at some point, your dreams will come true. Even though Dior’s top brass roll their eyes at Mrs. Harris, Ada sees that the essence of the brand is people like Andre/Natasha and all the seamstresses/workers, who truly believe they are making dreams for their customers, and makes a point to thank them for what they do. Even though the rat race threatens to toss us all aside, there’s a Mrs. Harris around that fills our hearts with a simple “thank you” that keeps us all going through those dark times.
And as her selfless behavior spreads, Mrs. Harris starts to believe that dreams do come true! Thanks to the luminous Lesley Manville, Ada Harris contains all the charm and self-deprecation of all the great British performers, easily winning her way into our hearts. She carries with her a broken heart at the loss of her husband and previous life. As she spends more time in Paris, Mrs. Harris also uses the trip as self-therapy, learning to fill in the hole at the center of her heart. As the hole fills, her confidence grows, and that dream that seemed so far away starts to become a new reality she’s created for herself, now unafraid to stand up for whomever and whatever she believes in, so those people can also fill the holes in their hearts. The movie becomes an unstoppable cycle of goodness and beauty, inside and out, that overwhelms your senses and your smile, unable to turn it off during a most wonderful 2 hour journey to Paris with Mrs. Harris.
When you look up feel good movie in the movie dictionary, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris would be my recommendation. It pulls that movie magic trick of burrowing into your soul and extracting the best pieces of it, transforming a dark night into a bright day, filled with roses and rainbows. And Christian Dior dresses impossibly beautiful that they bring you to tears.