A harmless charming treat

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Anthony Fabian is a talented director mainly known for his commercials and TV documentaries. However, very little feature films he has done in the past have received positive critical acclaim. His recent cinematic work Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is also a pleasant, feel-good, light-hearted, comedy/drama that has gathered the attention of not just the cinema lovers but the critics as well.

The film takes place in the 1950s in England and in France, and centres on a working class middle-aged woman named Ada Harris. She works as a housemaid for the rich but has a true talent when it comes to scissors and needles. Hailing from a poor background she hustles to make ends meet and years for the return of her soldier husband from war. Soon the tragedy strikes as she receives the most dreadful news – her husband has been deceased during action.

Having spent most of her life working for the rich and awaiting on her husband who was never going to return home, Ada decides to give a new meaning to her life – to own a precious, elegant and fashionable Dior dress of her own. Her peers finds her desire to be a bit out of her reach but supports her nonetheless since it has been her dream since her young ages to own one. With the widow allowance and her life’s savings all collected, she decides to head to Paris, France to buy her dream dress, without knowing the first thing about the elite dress-making culture of the time. The movie focuses on the adventures of Ada in Paris; the people she meets, the misfortunes she has to encounter, and the perseverance she shows to overcome the challenges she is faced with.

This movie is a pleasant movie with not many earth-shattering plot twists. Although it is a feel-good movie and in the end all’s well sort of ends well, it doesn’t sway completely away from the ground reality of the working class and sticks to a rather realistic and yet a relatively happy ending. There are some plot holes here and there in the movie but those are sort of brushed off by the movie magic. When it comes to movies taking place in Paris, there is a certain allure to the; everything looks romanticised, music is heavily accordion-based, men are proper gentlemen and behave romantically and the odd villains we find are women but they too are ones we can rather sympathise once we get to know their back story.

This is all the same with Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. From the moment she lands in Paris, in a foreign land where she speaks very little of the native language she is surprisingly lucky enough to meet the kindest and most romantic men; even the drunkard bum she meets at a railway station is kind enough to direct her to where she wants to go and surprisingly well-behaved. At the House of Dior where she is initially shunned for her cheap looks and ‘lack of class’ she meets a proper gentleman who is willing to take her in as his guest and to show her around the fashion show, making her dream come true.

Ada arrives in Paris at a time when the working class people is on a protest demanding for their rights and this means the streets of Paris are not cleaned in days. Wherever she goes she witnesses heaps of garbage stacked on by the streets but despite these un-pleasantries and the red-nosed drunkards with wine bottles in brown paper bags showing her the way around Paris, the movie rather takes a scenic or rather an artistic setting. If the same scenario took place in a different part of the world the setting would have been rather unpleasant to look to say the least but this being Paris – the romantic capital of the world – the movie is sort of allowed to sweep the dirtiness under the rug, despite the movie’s overall theme not really being a romantic one.

In terms of acting, Lesley Manville who plays Ada single-handedly carries the whole movie, understandably so since she plays the title character. She reminds me of Kimmy Schmidt from the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt who always manages to keep a smile on her face despite the trials and tribulations life puts her through. There is a certain sense of fictitiousness attached to all the characters in the movie, including Ada, but this is expected since the events unfolded in the movie could not really have had happened in the real world. In that way, one can argue the movie is rather unrealistic but where the movie triumphs is also capitalising on this element. It brings out a total fiction in a rather believable and a relatable way, keeping the audience hooked as well as entertained until the last minute.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a simple movie that can be enjoyed by the whole family. It might not be a real tear-jerker or a fall-off-your-seat comedy but it touches all the necessary elements; a bit of romance, a touch of comedy, a fleck of drama, and a pinch of tragedy – a fine mix of the usual genres of Hollywood. It also gives glimpses into the lives of London and Paris during those yesteryears, and the costumes and the backgrounds have also been designed and set appropriately. It may also be of interest to anyone who is interested in fashion because it shows how cut-throat and competitive the fashion industry is and how it has been so, even in the past 70-or-so years ago.

While Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is not that complicated movie worth watching twice, it certainly is an interesting movie and if you are into feel-good movies it definitely worth holding onto to watch later. Through the movie Fabian has yet again showed his prowess as a director and it is a pity that he is more focused on creating documentaries rather than movies. If this is what he is capable of, I can’t wait to see what movie he creates next.      

By Sanuj Hathurusinghe