If a Custom-Made Dior Dress Is a Bit Out of Your Price Range, Purchase a Copy of “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” on DVD or Blu-ray Instead
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
There’s no right or wrong way to make a feel-good movie. But there are certain elements that will make one feel-good film much more successful and enjoyable than another. Feel-good films require precise storytelling techniques and a little extra wow-factor in order to make an impact. In the case of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, that wow factor is the contagious optimism that’s reflected in every shot. At first glance, the story of Mrs. Ada Harris, an English house cleaner in the 1950s who dreams of owning her own Dior gown, seems like a predictable and unrealistic feel-good tale. But under the direction of Anthony Fabian (Good Hope), and with captivating performances by Lesley Manville (Let Him Go), Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Jason Isaacs (Mass), Lambert Wilson (Benedetta), Alba Baptista (Warrior Nun), Roxane Duran (The Cursed), and Ellen Thomas (Arcane), Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris emerges as a lovely cinematic gem. The movie had a theatrical release earlier this summer and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is adapted from the 1958 book by Paul Gallico (Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris). In Fabian’s adaptation, Lesley Manville takes on the leading role with such heart and sincerity that she can’t help but speak to the silly dreamer inside all of us. When the widowed Mrs. Harris isn’t cleaning houses for the rich and spoiled, she’s spending her time with her dear friends Violet (Ellen Thomas) and Archie (Jason Isaacs). One day, she notices a stunning dress in the home of one of her clients. She soon discovers that it’s a genuine piece from the House of Dior. With nothing left to lose, Mrs. Harris decides to start saving everything she has so she can purchase her own Dior gown. When she finally saves up enough to travel to Paris and buy the dress, she’s hardly prepared to deal with the snobby Paris elite who await her there. However, Mrs. Harris wins over the hearts of a few compassionate Parisians and convinces the uptight Dior manager, Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert), to let her purchase a custom-tailored dress. The House of Dior is a dazzling dream for Mrs. Harris, but what she doesn’t know is that the fashion house is facing serious financial troubles. Her no-nonsense way of approaching problems and her unabashed determination may be just what the Dior folks need to turn things around.
From opening shots to end credits, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is steeped in enchantment and wonder. The movie has a rich, saturated look that makes every part of the set just a little more magical. Even the dimly lit bar where Mrs. Harris discusses her hardships with Violet and Archie looks warm, inviting, and cozy. When things don’t go quite right for Mrs. Harris, and her teary eyes glisten in the amber glow of the bar lamps, her temporary heartbreak seems bittersweet in the most beautiful way. Then, when she finally makes her way to Paris, the cozy colors of London are replaced by the fresh, elegant, and pristine interior of the House of Dior. There’s always something bright and beautiful to look at in the movie, from the baskets of colorful roses at the Paris flower market to the exquisite Dior gowns. The whimsical yet elegant production design is enhanced by a charming, playful, and sentimental score. Together, these elements create a fanciful setting where sentimentality and optimism are simply part of the decor.
The enchanting storybook world of the movie is graced by a delightful cast of characters who seem to have been pulled straight out of a fairytale. After leaving her faithful friends Violent and Archie in London, Mrs. Harris befriends the unbelievably perfect model Natasha (Alba Baptista), a budding young scholar and philosopher trapped behind enviously good looks. There’s also André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo), a shy and awkward young man who’s too afraid to share his ingenious ideas with his superiors, and Marguerite (Roxane Duran), who exists in the story only to show incredible kindness to Mrs. Harris and help her dreams come true. At the forefront of the Dior crowd is Madame Colbert, whose strict adherence to tradition puts her at odds with the unconventional and unrefined Mrs. Harris. Even though the beautiful Parisian crew adds little depth to the story, they are absolutely delightful to watch. They exhibit all the magic and elegance that Mrs. Harris expected to find in Paris, allowing the title character (and the audience) to live out an enchanting fantasy. Through its whimsical artistic design, elegant costumes, and fairytale characters, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris brings an idealized version of The City of Light to life.
However, the beautiful and magical design of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is just the butter on top of the baguette. Underneath the movie’s stylistic charm, the story is surprisingly genuine. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris shouldn’t be as moving as it is, especially with such a predictable story and embarrassingly simple characters. And yet, by celebrating an idealized version of Paris and appealing to our childlike optimism, the movie has the power to make audiences feel genuinely good. Mrs. Harris’s dream of buying an overpriced designer dress seems, at first, entirely foolish. But in the magical, enchanting, and idealized world of the movie, her desires are completely valid. When her eyes well with tears every time she faces a setback, you can’t help but empathize with her and think about your own “foolish” dreams. When her face lights up with delight each time she takes another step toward getting her dress, you can’t help but feel your inner child heal a little bit. Despite its formulaic approach to a feel-good story, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is narratively successful.
If you can’t get enough of the wondrous world of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, you may just have to watch it over and over again. Unfortunately, the collector’s edition doesn’t offer much in the way of special features. There are three brief extended scenes on the disc, but they don’t provide any additional context to the story. The home release also includes a chuckle-worthy gag reel, which is worth a watch if you decide to purchase a physical copy. No matter how you decide to watch it, whether on Blu-ray, DVD, or digital, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris will warm your heart with its beautiful settings, delightful characters, charming humor, and childlike optimism.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."