At one point in Anthony Fabian’s Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Isabelle Huppert’s Claudine Colbert, the Directress of the fashionable Christian Dior gallery, matter-of-factly reminds Lesley Manville’s Ada Harris, “You are nobody. Invisible.”
Mr. Fabian’s adaptation of Paul Gallico’s classic novel reminds us that we are all invisible. Though the statement was intended to insult Mrs. Harris, Ms. Manville takes her words in stride. A small smile forms at the edges of her lips as she gets up to leave Claudine’s office. Mrs. Harris is not done proving her worth amongst the elite fashionistas of Paris.
Set in the 1950s, Mrs. Harris is a widower, though she clings to the notion that her husband is still alive following World War II. She relies on Ellen Thomas’ Vi Butterfield for gossip, especially about the promiscuous Archie, played by Jason Isaacs. By day, Mrs. Harris is a house cleaner, living off a meager salary, with a heart of gold.
Based on Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico (The Poseidon Adventure, The Snow Goose), Mr. Fabian offers two distinct worlds in her hometown of London: that of the haves and the have-nots, while putting Mrs. Harris squarely in the middle. Her heart of gold is one of helpfulness, one who thinks of others first. She misses clear signs of being taken advantage of by her cleaning clients who won’t pay up for her services or demand so much of her that she has no choice but to give, often with less than desirable results.
Vi and Archie look out for Mrs. Harris, expanding the notion of duality in characters, settings, and situations in the form of an angel and the devil.
One of Mrs. Harris’ characteristics is holding her cards tightly against her chest. She is a dreamer because she sacrifices so much for so many others. That aspect of the character and the story becomes an essential foundation for her adventures in Paris as she seeks to obtain a Dior gown.
Ms. Manville acquits herself quite generously of the humorous lady, the actress’s spirit is indomitable and undeterred, infusing and reflecting those aspects into the character. The actress’s eyes emote far more than any other facial feature. We know what makes Ms. Manville tick.
As Mrs. Harris lands at Le Bourget and makes her way into the garbage-laden streets of Paris, she begins to learn her worth. Not realizing that the storefront for the Dior gallery is exclusive, Mrs. Harris sets down stacks of cash to purchase a dress, attracting the attention of Claudine, Natasha (Alba Baptista), and André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo). Claudine is closed in her ways, demanding. Natasha is a bright young lady whose looks are attractive. Ms. Baptista is looser than Ms. Manville in terms of holding her cards and needs someone like Mrs. Harris to realize her importance amidst the philosophical trappings guiding Parisians in the 1950s.
Mrs. Harris also attracts the attention of Lambert Wilson’s Marquis de Chassagne, a well-to-do individual who takes Mrs. Harris by hand into a showing of the latest collection, much to the dismay of another patron. Mr. Fabian and cinematographer Felix Wiedemann distinguish the pacing of the two locales through darker and brighter lighting, much the same as in Downton Abbey: A New Era earlier this summer.
The cluster of people that Mrs. Harris attracts is what catches our attention. She only has to say but a few words and people are ready to follow her lead – she understands how to get things accomplished and either foster trust or engenders it.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris does lose its balance as its truths are revealed in some of the side stories. However, they are expertly and humorously brought back together, a credit to Ms. Manville’s performance.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Directed by Anthony Fabian
Screenplay by Carroll Cartwright, Anthony Fabian, Keith Thompson, and Olivia Hetreed, based on Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico
Starring Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Ellen Thomas, Rose Williams, Jason Isaacs
PG, 115 mins., Focus Features