Lesley Manville earned an Oscar nomination for playing Cyril, the manager of her brother’s fashion house, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2017 film “Phantom Thread,” set in 1950s London.
There must be something about Manville that says the 1950s and fashion to filmmakers as she plays the titular character in “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” (Focus Features). It’s the latest film adaptation of Paul Gallico’s similarly titled novel. This one is directed and co-written by gay filmmaker Anthony Fabian.
Mrs. Ada Harris (Manville) is the flipside of the well-off Cyril. She’s a cleaning lady struggling to make ends meet, whose husband Eddy was a soldier, MIA since WWII, who was ultimately confirmed as having been killed in action in Poland in 1944.
Ada has multiple clients including man about town Mr. Newcomb (Christian McKay) and his various “nieces,” flaky actress Miss Penrose (Rose Williams), and cheapskate Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor). Her social life revolves around best friends Vi (Ellen Thomas), a fellow housekeeper, and Archie (Jason Isaacs), who works as a bookmaker at the local dog track.
At the home of Lady Dant, a client who owes Ada a considerable sum in backpay, she discovers that her petty patron has recently purchased a Dior couture dress for £500. Ada is dazzled by the frock and sets about trying to figure out a way to raise the funds for one of her own.
As luck would have it, a series of utterly unexpected events lead to a windfall of some sort for Ada. First, she wins a nice chunk of change in a pool. Then a young soldier comes to her door to bring her the news that she’s entitled to a sizable widow’s pension that was withheld since 1944. This is followed by a policeman coming by to tell Ada that she’s earned a reward for turning in a diamond clip she found in the street. If that wasn’t enough, Archie gives her winnings from the dog track that he arranged for her. Suddenly flush, Ada has £582, enough for the Dior dress and a quick flight to Paris.
As luck would have it, there are multiple complications. Ada is treated disrespectfully by Mme. Colbert (Isabelle Huppert), as well as some of the other wealthy women, at the 10th-anniversary launch of Dior’s collection. Fortunately for Ada, she meets well-to-do widower de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson) who comes to her aid. She also has pleasant interactions with model Natasha (Alba Baptista) and Dior’s accountant Andre (Lucas Bravo). Her overnight trip becomes an extended stay due to the personal fitting scheduled for her Dior original. This gives her time to act as a matchmaker, charm Colbert, and eventually save Dior from ruin.
“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is the kind of period piece that the Brits do so well. Even if this one is a bit more fanciful, magical even, than others. Thankfully, Manville is there to keep it grounded. Laughs and tears are plentiful, and the fashions and furnishings put the fabulous into the ‘50s.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of eight books including the poetry chapbook Fear of Muses (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.