Lesley Manville puts on her Mary Poppins hat and delivers the performance of her life as the sweet and innocent cleaning lady whose ability to dream astonishes those around her and the viewers alike.
Last Updated: 10.22 AM, Feb 10, 2023
Story: A war widow working as a cleaning lady in London falls madly in love with a client’s haute couture Christian Dior dress. She makes it her life’s motto to acquire a Dior dress for herself and is willing to go to any length, even resorting to gambling, in this pursuit.
Review: Falling in love at the first sight is quite real and it’s portrayed beautifully in Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. But favourably, it’s not a person; the sweet good-natured cleaning lady from London, Mrs Harris falls in love with a pristine haute couture Christian Dior gown. Having lost all hope in life after getting the tragic news of her husband’s demise, she latches onto the dream of acquiring a dress from one of the world's top fashion houses. Her belief in the signs from the universe nudges her forward and she decides to relentlessly pursue her dream.
Pitched as a period piece, the film delivers on its title. The 1950s, when the film is set in, was an odd time. The war is over but the gloominess lingers. Though the film treads gently over the race issue, the class divide is evident if not magnified. The chirpy Mrs Harris has a Pretty Woman incident when she drops in at the House of Dior before the showing of their 10th-anniversary collection. Her brutal honesty and reasonable attitude, however, come in handy and she manages to slip in. This life-altering event serves not just as a showing but also allows a peek into the world of couture. The fashion industry, specifically haute couture, is not one to trigger a mass appeal. But its description as ‘wearable art’ does spark an interest in our film’s cherubic yet feisty lead. Fashion history nerds would recognise the silent nods to Dior's "New Look" era and Yves Saint Laurent’s revolutionary motifs that altered the world of fashion as we knew it. The film is a treat for both, the bourgeois and the collectivists since it packs multiple perspectives and mocks them subliminally too. The film, however, draws a line between these antithetical ideas chiefly through plot points including the depiction of the Parisian Garbage Collectors Strike In 1957 and a very real phenomenon which saved Dior from financial ruin.
When the film transitions from a story of pure gratification to taking on a more sombre tone, we’re assured that it’s an attempt to lean on its redemption arc. There are several messages being conveyed here. The quest for perfection may be eternal, and the ‘Dior dress’ is merely symbolic of the same. Then one can’t ignore the fact that in this age of revelry and dissipation, reflecting on the past can be pragmatic as history tends to repeat itself. Cinematically, the film reaches near perfection as can be expected from Anthony Fabian, whose first feature Skin won 22 international awards.
The talented Lesley Manville slips into Mrs Harris like a glove. The supporting characters serve as perfectly-placed chess pieces in the lead’s game of desire. From her sidekick, Vi to the charming Archie portrayed by Jason Isaacs, to the compassionate staff at Dior, headlined by accountant André and model Natasha.
Verdict: The film might go on to be considered a classic someday but since it’s not everyone’s cup of tea; we’ll just have to wait and watch how this one age. But it can be said with definitive certainty that Lesley Manville’s Mrs Harris is an unforgettable character who will outlive the film and perhaps, could even be considered for a franchise. After all, her dreams and desires might seem flippant but her zest for life is authentic.