Movie Review ‘Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris’

John Thomas

Helping other people sort out their lives is what she does. Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) spends her days working for others with two hopes to keep her cheerful. The first is the return of her husband who left for the war in the 40s, and the other is to own a Christian Dior haute couture gown. One of her clients owns one and has told Ada that they cost about 500£ – quite a sum in the 50s. The only other spark in Ada’s life is Vi Butterfield (Ellen Thomas), who cleans a London row-house next door to Ada’s. The two friends ride the bus together and occasionally visit a pub after work.

Ada is not only a scrupulous house cleaner but a careful money manager. She keeps a tin in her kitchen where she hides her “gown funds.” A tally sheet also keeps track of her goal for the Dior she hopes to wear at the next town hall dance. Vi has a tip on an upcoming dog race. She finally convinces Ada to attend with her. When Ada sees the name of one of the greyhounds, Haut Couture, she takes it as a sign and bets 100£ to win. Discouraging her to place a bet by the betting agent, she insists - and looses.

A knock on her door rouses her from her depression. A young soldier is there with a folder. Over a “cuppa,” he explains that Ada’s husband died in 1944 and it was not recorded until recently. She is entitled to his back pay - well over 500£. Her wish granted, Ada packs her suitcase and heads for the airport and a flight to Paris.

She eventually finds her way to the Dior showroom. During a shuffle at the entrance, she is inadvertently swept inside with one of the models. She has bypassed the security guards who admit only invited guests for the showing of Dior’s latest creations. She is invited into the viewing salon by a lone gentleman who has taken a liking to her. He explains the use of the card she was given. “Write the number of the gown you wish to purchase on the card,” he tells her.

As the models pass through, she is taken by a blue-green gown but falls in love with a red one.

The red gown had already been chosen so Ada settles for the blue-green. Saying goodbye to her new friends in Paris, she returns to London with her prize gown in a large box tucked under her arm. Hearing frantic knocking at her door, Ada rushes to answer. Standing outside is one of her clients in a panic over a soiled dress she was planning to wear to a media event - can Ada fix it?

 Ada can’t, so, reluctantly suggests her client borrow her new Dior even though Ada has yet to wear it. The dress fits so the client dashes off looking very fashionable. While at the party, her client accidentally sets fire to the gown. Reporters also in attendance photograph the ruined Dior gown which next day becomes a front page news item - photos and all. The story even reaches the tabloids in Paris.

Days later, and just before the town hall dance, Ada again answers a knock at her door. This time a postman is standing there to hand her a large box with a Paris return address. The dance is filled with music, laughter, dancing and happy people, but not Ada - at least not yet.

Directed by Anthony Manville (Credits: Good Bye Hope, Skin), Mrs. Harris runs 115 minutes and is a “should see” for a light, cheerful interpretation of Paul Gallico’s book Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris.


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