On “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” Lesley Manville returns to the world of fashion in a reversal of her Oscar-nominated role in “Phantom Thread.” Her delightfully icy character in that film – the forbidding manager of a British fashion house and enemy of Vicky Krieps’ lowborn muse – would turn catatonic if Manville’s Mrs. Ada Harris waltzed into the fitting room and asked for a “gown” with her cockney draft.
Unsurprisingly, the formidable Manville makes it to the switcheroo, instilling in her role as the genius cleaning lady with a tenderness and grace that far surpasses the feel-good pish-chic that is the movie around her.
Directed by Anthony Fabian, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” trades in a similar sort of British coziness to the “Paddington” movies, though it’s not quite as silly or funny.
Mrs. Harris, a widow toiling in the service of London’s post-war elite, has her eye on a tailor-made Dior dress and, after a series of happy events, heads to Paris to retrieve the garment of her dreams. Despite finding the money, our heroine must face the menacing Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) and the cocky mores of the biz and its patrons.
For the other weary employees—kind, philosophizing model Natasha (Alba Baptista), and amorous accountant André (Lucas Bravo)—Mrs. Harris single-handedly proves that society’s rules aren’t necessarily rock solid. If a humble girl can get her hands on a 600lb dress, what’s to stop Natasha from pursuing an intellectual life, or André from revolutionizing the business to appeal to women from all walks of life?
Filled with optimism and quiet wisdom, the trope of the laughable worker bee is humbling, and Mrs. Harris’s repetition is no exception. Despite its gleeful presentation of gorgeous clothes and vibrant mid-century Parisian landmarks, the film is caught between its fantasies and its principles, and ends up somewhere where it’s more annoying — and boring — than it needs to be.
Mrs. Harris is going to Paris
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. In theaters.