Neither Hambone nor Underplayer, Lesley Manville offers tremendous value for money. Her classic skills, coupled with the cunning of a slick improviser honed in the films of Mike Leigh, have spawned so many projects including Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” in which Manville meticulously handcrafted the immaculately coiffed gatekeeper to Daniel Day-Lewis Pygmalion fantasies played what the well-dressed woman should wear.
“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” allows Manville to be the one outside of haute couture, to look inside and then step right through the looking glass. This is the latest film adaptation of the 1958 novel by Paul Gallico, about a humble London war widow eking out a job as a cleaning lady (though I don’t think the new film calls her that). Ada Harris dreams of luxury for once before it’s too late. Her story is a daydream come true about it to travel to the House of Dior and take home something beautiful.
Manville and her castmates make sure the film really is that. Niceness is everything, though director and co-writer Anthony Fabian injects a slightly domineering charm into the storytelling. The adaptation remains fairly faithful to Gallico’s original, although Harris himself has evolved in different directions.
She’s no longer the kind of post-war British specimen who would say something along the lines of “filthy, those foreigners,” as Angela Lansbury put it in the 1992 TV movie. This time, her corner of mid-1950s London is progressive enough for a broader, less paranoid vision of this woman’s world before and after she goes to Paris.
The triggering incident remains the same. When Harris sees the Dior dress worn by one of her regular dry cleaners, the sight takes her breath away. Her life instantly turns into one expensive long shot: she saves enough money to pay for a quick flight to Paris, where she buys a single Dior dress and returns home in a dreamy Cinderella spirit.
The lives she transforms along the way through compassion and beguiling impudence are numerous and grateful. First, the impressive Mme. Colbert (Isabelle Huppert, who really is a Hambone here) sees this working-class invader in the House of Dior as a plague to be fended off. But Harris insists, aided by the discreet dashing support of a wealthy nobleman and Dior regular (Lambert Wilson). She wants this dress!
“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” oscillates between setback and progress, shattered hopes and accidental pleasantries. First and foremost, our hero plays a warm, down-to-earth Mary Poppins, the matchmaker for a restless Dior model (Alba Baptista) and a shy Dior -Accountant (Lucas Bravo). The idea for the new “Mrs. Harris” is to make her more of a motor and less of a passenger in her own story. The screenwriters (four in all) deliver mixed results when Harris triggers a workers’ strike, among other red-hot developments instigates.
Manville has described the material in interviews as “a musical without the music,” although “Mrs. In fact, Harris Goes to Paris has already been made into a British musical. If director Fabian’s touch is a little clumsy and shy, the actors loosen her up at every predetermined step. Many people will be happy about the wish-fulfilment. We need it: Not many in the real world are fully cooperating in this regard right now.
“Mrs. Harris goes to Paris” – 2.5 stars
MPAA Rating: PG (for speech, suggestive material and smoking)
Running time: 1:55
How to watch: Premieres in theaters July 14
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
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