While Hollywood actresses say that there aren’t many good roles for them after they reach 40, their British counterparts don’t seem to have that problem. Judi Dench (age 87), Helen Mirren (77), Julie Walters (72) and Imelda Staunton (66) all still have busy film careers. Joining their ranks is Lesley Manville, who is also 66. The IMDb lists her participation in three TV series this year alone. We’re also going to see her soon in the new season of THE CROWN, where she’ll be playing Princess Margaret, taking over the role from Helena Bonham Carter and Vanessa Kirby before her. Two more TV series and a movie are currently in various stages of production as well. Manville is currently seen on the big screen in some locations and the little screen in others in the latest adaptation of Paul Gallico’s popular 1958 novel, Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris.
In MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS (with an “H”), Manville plays the titular Ada Harris, a charwoman living in 1957 London. Hardworking and devoted to both her clients and her friends, fellow char Vi (Ellen Thomas, TV’s EASTENDERS) and greyhound racetrack cashier Archie (Jason Isaacs, MASS; the HARRY POTTER franchise), Mrs. Harris leads an unremarkable life. Her husband went missing in action during the war and she’s still holding out hope that he’ll return. One day, Mrs. Harris’ luck changes when her unwavering kindness to others pays off. She wins big at the track, a stranger offers to pay her a reward for finding a piece of their lost jewellery and she gets word from the government that they owe her a fair chunk of money. One of her wealthy clients had recently purchased a bespoke Dior dress and Mrs. Harris decides she wants to spend her windfall by going to Paris and buying a Dior dress of her own. In Paris, though, Mrs. Harris is completely out of her element but her kindness always seems to get her out of jams. One of friendly alcooliques who hang out in the waiting room at one of Paris’ train stations gets her to the House of Dior and, once there, she quickly befriends the debonair Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson, BENEDETTA; THE MATRIX franchise), Dior’s premier model Natasha (Portuguese actress Alba Baptista, TV’s WARRIOR NUN), and Dior’s CFO and French Rob Lowe, André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo, TV’s EMILY IN PARIS). Only Dior’s managing director, Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert, HAPPY END; ELLE), seems to have a problem with the upheaval this common woman is causing at the luxury fashion house.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS but it never transcends to anything more than being as nice a movie as Mrs. Harris is herself. I’ve been to the French capital a few times and I’ve never met any Parisians who are as nice and friendly as the ones Mrs. Harris comes in contact with. Either they became gruff after 1957 or Mrs. Harris is just such a good-hearted soul that even the wicked are transformed by her. Or perhaps MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS is a fairy tale and Mrs. Harris is a contemporary Cinderella. If that’s the case, then I would have preferred to have seen her clients take more advantage of her than they do. Strangely, the story revolves around a simple woman having a grand dream – to own a beautiful dress. That seems rather shallow but, in any case, when she is in Paris, she is wearing some very stylish prêt-à-porter outfits that probably cost a fraction of what the Dior dress does. What are we to make of that? Happiness only comes from buying expensive clothes? Even the prince was more interested in Cinderella as a person than he was in the glass slippers she wore.
Fortunately, Manville is a fabulous actress and she brings tangible warmth to the character. As twee as this story is, dare I say it’s impossible not to empathize with Mrs. Harris. Who wouldn’t want to have a friend, or a charwoman for that matter, like her? As there are three other Mrs. ‘Arris adventures – New York, Parliament and Moscow – perhaps we’ll be seeing Mrs. Harris again. Why limit it to just those three though? She can go to Blackpool or even to the moon with Neil Armstrong. If this would be a Hollywood film, for sure that would happen.
MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS is starting to roll out to cinemas around the world but it’s already available on a number of VOD platforms in certain markets. It will probably come to Hong Kong’s cinemas at some point but nothing has been announced at this time. When it opened in the US in July, it was reported that 44 percent of the audiences were women over the age of 55, so that should give you an idea of which demographic this film is appealing to.
If you’re looking for a nice and safe film that your mother will love, MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS is it. Just remember to bring along some insulin.
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