In the past, especially in difficult times, people flocked to the cinema to escape. Musicals, formulaic love stories, and light, fluffy fare with happy endings were standards for viewers who wanted to lose themselves in a little fantasy, even for a few hours.
“Mrs. Harris is going to Paris.” which hits theaters today, has elements of the films from that era gone by, but also a surprising depth that you might not expect.
Author Paul Gallico first introduced Mrs. Harris to us in 1958 with “Flowers for Mrs. Harris“, later called “Mrs. Harris goes to Paris‘ and then wrote a total of four books about the adventures of the little cleaning lady who died New York Times said, was one of the most loveable characters Gallico ever created.
The book was made into a 1992 CBS TV movie starring Angela Lansbury in the title role. You can watch it on YouTube.
This theatrical version, led by the great Leslie Manville (“The Phantom Thread” and “let him go‘) tells the story of the London-based WWII widow, as heroine Ada Harris, who spends the day cleaning for wealthy people while harboring hope that her MIA husband will still be alive 10 years later. Loyal, solid, and very caring, Ada spends much of her daily life building others up, comforting others, and giving herself to everyone else. She begins to feel underappreciated and invisible.
While cleaning for one of her wealthier employers, Ada sees her first Dior dress and falls in love. She vows to have more beauty in her life and dreams of owning one. After a few “lucky days” she sets off for Paris to make this dream come true. Along the way, Ada continues to care for others, empower others, and manage to find new acceptance and insight into her own life.
Manville takes on a role that could be a little cartoonish and potentially predictable, adding warmth, deliberate thinking and great care.
Manville’s Harris is real, even if elements around her at times seem bordering on picture book. She takes on a familiar sort of character and makes us care deeply about her.
I’ve been a Manville fan since I saw her in “The Phantom Thread‘ in which she played the stoic upscale fashion house manager and sister of designer Daniel Day Lewis. She showed her versatility in the Kevin Costner/Diane Lane film “let him go‘ from 2020, in which she played a murderous southern matriarch of a thug family.
It’s time for her to direct a film and I hope there are more opportunities for her.
The supporting cast are fantastic, with not a bad performance. Even the French winemakers at the bus station are fun and adorable.
World-famous actress Isabelle Huppert stars as Madame Claudine Colbert, Dior’s snooty house manager who would give Manville’s phantom thread character a run for their money. Huppert clearly took on this role to have a little fun, which is evident in her over-the-top handling of the character. I say that in a good way, and while many critics may pan out at her performance, I found her to be hilarious and at times profound and endearing. I’m always amazed when an actor with a resume like Huppert’s decides to throw himself into a supporting role.
I think the most refreshing part of the film was the twists and turns at the very end. Just when I was starting to get annoyed that the story was being wrapped up in a neat, predictable little happy ending, there was a reality check curveball that leveled things out. Because of that ending, and this is clearly Manville’s picture, “Mrs. Harris goes to Paris“ is much more than an escapist image. It might even start the trend towards more feel-good movies.
Where did they go anyway?
My grade: A. Yes, go see it at the theater. Also buy some popcorn.
“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” opens in theaters July 15 and is rated PG. The running time is one hour, 55 minutes.