Arts

Mrs Harris Goes To Paris 'merrily trades in old-fashioned British pluck and charm'

Mrs Harris Goes To Paris: Lesley Manville as Mrs Harris and Lucas Bravo as Andre Fauvel
Damon Smith

MRS HARRIS GOES TO PARIS (PG, 116 mins) Drama/Comedy/Romance. Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Lambert Wilson, Lucas Bravo, Alba Baptista, Jason Isaacs, Ellen Thomas, Anna Chancellor, Rose Williams, Philippe Bertin. Director: Anthony Fabian.

Released: September 30

POST-wartime dreams come true in the shadow of the majestic Eiffel Tower in director Anthony Fabian's life-affirming drama comedy adapted from Paul Gallico's 1958 novel.

Polished to a heart-warming lustre by four screenwriters, Mrs Harris Goes To Paris merrily trades in old-fashioned British pluck and charm, transplanting a kind-hearted cleaning lady from the streets of south London to the arrondissements of the French capital in the grip of a refuge collection strike.

The resilient heroine's dearest wish – to wear a Christian Dior dress to her local Royal British Legion's forthcoming social – requires a nimble leap across class and language divides guarded by Isabelle Huppert's snooty fashion house director, who mocks the idea of haute couture draped on someone like Mrs Harris.

"You are nobody, invisible. How will you give this dress the life it deserves?" she chuckles.

Evidently, the grand dame hasn't read Charles Perrault's 17th-century take on Cinderella, Cendrillon Ou La Petite Pantoufle De Verre, or she would recognise that she is playing the wicked stepmother in a cleaning rags-to-riches fairytale and no amount of cruelty will prevent the title character from going to her ball at Battersea Town Hall.

Oscar nominee Lesley Manville is delightful as a love-a-duck dreamer, whose innate kindness oils clunky plot wheels and guarantees a feelgood resolution that director Fabian gift wraps with impressive production design and costumes designed by Jenny Beavan in close collaboration with Dior.

Widowed cleaning lady Ada Harris (Manville) criss-crosses 1957 London with best friend Vi Butterfield (Ellen Thomas) to diligently dust and tidy the homes of cash-strapped aristocrat Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor) and struggling actress Pamela Penrose (Rose Williams).

In the course of her duties, Ada fixates on Lady Dant's £500 Christian Dior dress.

A war widow's pension and an unexpected windfall secure Ada an airplane ticket to Paris-Le Bourget Airport and she innocently gate-crashes the premiere of Dior's 10th anniversary collection overseen by the couturier's haughty director, Claudine Colbert (Huppert).

Times are tough for designer Dior (Philippe Bertin) so his team reluctantly accepts Ada's rolls of cash in exchange for a one-of-a-kind creation that requires a series of fittings and an unexpected stay in Paris with accountant Andre Fauvel (Lucas Bravo).

"You don't get this hoo-ha when you buy a frock down Woolworths," clucks Ada as she casts a spell over the ailing fashion house and its denizens including model Natasha (Alba Baptista) and widower Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson).

Like its exuberant title character, Mrs Harris Goes To Paris has no pretentions beyond delivering warm, comforting hugs between words of affirmation and empowerment.

Parallel romantic subplots waltz to inevitable conclusions and Manville deftly navigates her hard grafter's grief and gumption.

Never underestimate a nobody.

RATING: 3/5

Arts