Lesley Manville AND Isabelle Huppert in the same movie? Be still mon cœur battant. Mrs Harris Goes To Paris proves to be a gloriously delicious madeleine of a film
“What could go wrong with buttons?”
An adaptation of Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, an 1958 novel by Paul Gallico, Mrs Harris Goes To Paris is actually the third such version but I’m glad that this was my first. Any film starring both Lesley Manville and Isabelle Huppert feels absolutely tailor-made to my interests and fortunately this lived up to the billing. As light as a madeleine, as gaudy as a macaron and beautifully good-natured from top to bottom, it is a couple of hours of wonderfully escapist fun.
Directed by Anthony Fabian and co-written by him with Carroll Cartwright, Keith Thompson and Olivia Hetreed, Mrs Ada Harris is a London cleaning lady whose emotional life has been on hold for years, waiting for news of her Eddie who went missing during WWII. It’s now 1957 and a telegram finally arrives but as she mourns, a set of happenstances visits a fair sum of money on her (a pools win, the release of her war-widow pension) and the gorgeous Dior dress she’d seen in the wardrobe at one of her regulars no longer seems like such a distant dream.
It’s no more and no less than that, Mrs Harris finding a desire and then doing her best to achieve it. And though entirely fantastical, there’s enough grit, enough bittersweetness here to stop it dissolving into triteness. Handsome Parisian strangers help her at the drop of a chapeau but on arrival at the atelier of Christian Dior, the haughtiness of the director – Huppert’s wonderfully waspish Claudine Colbert – makes for a formidable obstruction. Will Ada win everyone over with her sweetness and charm and determination? What do you think? Will it also move you unexpectedly at various moments? Yes, unless you have a heart of stone.
Jenny Beavan’s costumes are rightfully absolutely stunning, delectable and desirable. And a superb supporting cast add to the joie de vivre. Ellen Thomas as Ada’s best pal and wing woman, Jason Isaac’s irascible charm as bookie Archie, Lambert Wilson’s Marquis de Chassange who threatens to sweep us all off our feet, Lucas Bravo’s nerdy accountant André, it is all just so wonderfully charmant. Who would have thought the world of haute couture could be so heart-warming.