A widowed cleaning lady in 1950s London falls madly in love with a couture Dior dress, and decides that she must have one of her own.
I find myself turning to Turner Classic Movies more often these days. Frankly, there are times when I don’t even care what’s on. I’ve been purposely avoiding the news. I suppose this makes me a bad citizen of the world. So be it. Yet, reports of the many dire events occurring overseas and, in this country, still penetrate my self-imposed exile. By watching old movies, I’m reminded that an era of civility and frivolity existed. I suppose this is a bit irresponsible of me and more than a trifle naïve. Some may regard it as foolish. I look at it as self-preservation.
Anthony Fabian’s adaptation of Paul Gallico’s “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” offers a similar respite, a charming wish fulfillment fantasy that’s a testament to the author’s obvious belief in karma. Written in 1958, it tells of a modest widowed washwoman – a commoner to use the English vernacular – who has one wish; to own a dress made from the House of Dior.
We all have our flights of fancy and Mrs. Harris (a delightful Lesley Manville) comes by this one honestly. Working at various upper-crust residences, she spies a stunning Dior gown in the closet of Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor), a deplorable snob who feigns concern for our heroine but considers her barely worthy to walk through her front door. Mrs. Harris skimps and saves, takes on odd jobs, plays the lottery and makes impulsive bets at the racetrack in order to make her dream come true. Sometimes she’s successful, sometimes not…
However, good fortune shines on her again and again, a kind of cosmic payback for the kindness and courtesy see’s shown others. It comes as no surprise that she manages to get to the City of Lights, and I’d be willing to bet you’ll be able to predict the outcome of her journey. However, the power of the story springs from the sincere way it is told.
What with “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and others, director Frank Capra honed this formula to perfection. Mrs. Harris is cut from the same cloth as Longfellow Deeds and Jefferson Smith, innocent outsiders who cluelessly cut through the pretensions of the cynics they encounter. Their unaffected nature reminds those who’ve assumed a guise of self-importance of their former selves, a recollection that prompts them to embrace a child-like sensibility they once had.
So, it’s no wonder that Mrs. Harris’ presence precipitates a romance to bloom between two young people (Lucas Bravo and Rose Williams) who’ve been too shy to approach one another, a widower (Lambert Wilson) to let down his guard and be open to letting someone new into his life and a proud, defiant woman (Isabelle Huppert) to reveal the truth about herself and ask for some much-needed help.
I’m sure there are those who will scoff at “Mrs. Harris.” They’ll say its notion that by adhering to the Golden Rule your good deeds will be paid back one hundred-fold is antiquated and quaint. On a bad day, I might agree. However, I must believe that people are good, courteous and kind despite so much evidence to the contrary. “Mrs. Harris” has no grand designs to change anyone’s way of thinking where their approach to life is concerned. Rather, its intent is to remind us that while a simple act of kindness pays off immediate dividends, it’s the ripple effect of successive good deeds it produces that’s invaluable and infectious. It’s a simple notion, driven home with subtle force, one I desperately needed to be reminded of. I don’t think I’m the only one.
3 1/2 Stars