Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

By Joanna Langfield

What may sound like a small confection is very much more than that. Delicious, yes, but thanks to some slyly plush storytelling and even better performances from Lesley Manville and Isabelle Huppert, what could have sufficed as a sweet charmer delivers a whole lot more.

If this bittersweet story of an English war widow saving her shillings to go to Paris and buy a Dior gown sounds familiar, it should. There have probably been a bunch of similarly themed novels, in addition to Paul Gallico’s 1958 best seller. And there was a tv movie with Angela Lansbury and Diana Rigg back in 1992. This version is true to its 1950’s roots, but its morals feel as pungent as if they were written today. Mrs. Harris cleans other people’s houses and lives a sheltered life, just in case her husband returns, after all these years. But she’s no fool. Mrs. Harris knows there’s more out there. And maybe, if her luck runs right, she’ll be able to taste just some of it. So, after some twists and turns, she manages to get herself to Paris, and to the House of Dior, where things may not be all she assumed.

Yes, this is a solidly comic look at invisible women who turn out to be worth taking a look at. But it is also a more ambitious social commentary, a historical document and a great fashion show. I mean sure, there’s Sartre, but look at those dresses! The great Lesley Manville walks the tightrope between pitiful and pragmatic with a winning delicacy. Isabelle Huppert, almost unrecognizable, turns a Cruella DeVille type Dior manager into something far less stereotypical. Applause, too, for Jason Isaacs, who is pretty irresistible as the man who, like our heroic heroine, looks invisible, but is really quite a treat.