Mrs Harris Goes To Paris movie review: The film both celebrates haute couture and disses it
Mrs Harris Goes To Paris movie cast: Leslie Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Jason Isaacs, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo
Mrs Harris Goes To Paris movie director: Anthony Fabian
Mrs Harris Goes To Paris movie rating: 2.5 stars
At one crucial moment in this skeletal clothes hanger of a film, Mrs Harris (Leslie Manville) is given a tour of the atelier in the House of Dior in Paris. One room is for cutting, another for sewing, and so on and so forth, the oohs and the aahs filling up the failure to exactly put in words what so many women in unfailingly white clothes and coats are doing with the many wisps of fabric.
This film by director Anthony Fabian is something like that, after a fashion – a lot of different things hoping to come together into a wholesome work of couture. And if Christian Dior still comes out smelling of roses and riches, the women the French designer loved to dress get the shabby end of the deal.
None worse than Mrs Harris herself who is, but of course, a devoted war widow, plus a cheery housecleaner, plus an ill-treated worker, plus a loyal friend – one of those “invisible women” with whom men leave their dogs to look after, as they take the dance floor with another. So can a person like her, past her prime, dream an impossible dream?
But the film is not about that. It’s not something Mrs Harris does but a few quirky strokes of luck that land her in money so that she can make a trip to Paris to buy her dream Dior gown – like the kind she saw in an employer’s wardrobe. Then, sheer kindness paves the roads to that fashion house and beyond for her, as the very intelligent and superb actor Manville is forced to apply the full force of her talents to ensure Mrs Harris isn’t more unpalatable than the story is.
It’s 1957, WWII blues are fading, luxury is back, even as workers are on strike and the streets of Paris are full of trash. At this time, the Dior staff seemingly see in Mrs Harris flashes of someone like them – mere cogs in a system. So is that why they open their home and hearts and offices to her?
But the film isn’t about that either. After one brief scene when excited staff comment on her situation, a completely unnecessary love story stoked by, of course, the lovely lady from London takes over.
Dior is luxury that not everyone can afford — rather it actively discourages the horror of everyone being able to afford it. But is that enough to love it? Or, alternatively, condemn it?
No, the film isn’t about that either. A chance to showcase clothes as less than the person who wears them but also an acquisition that has forever maketh a man and woman, is squandered in a confused mish-mash that is guilty about being both celebrating haute couture and dissing it.
Having appeared in a completely opposite role as this in a film also about high fashion, Phantom Thread, Manville alone proudly wears her entire honest being on her sleeve – whether that sleeve belongs to her off-the-rack dowdy cardigan, or made-to -wear Dior ‘Temptation’.