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MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS

Is there still an audience for an adaptation of Paul Gallico’s whimsical best-selling novel Mrs. ‘arris goes to Paris? And are they so dumb that they need to have her name spelled out instead of Cockney-ized? 

Whatever the case, I was charmed by this unapologetic fairy tale about a cleaning woman who dreams of wearing a beautiful ball gown designed by Christian Dior. Lesley Manville is the perfect embodiment of Ada Harris, a hard-working woman who’s still mourning the death of her husband a decade after the end of World War II. Her life may not be easy but it isn’t dull: she has a handful of colorful clients, a chatty best friend (Ellen Thomas), and a sporting man (Jason Isaacs) who knows how to flatter her when she goes out for an evening at the local social club.

But once she sees a fabulous Dior gown in person she can think of nothing else. She saves and scrimps and uses her lottery winnings to fly to Paris and make her dream come true, thinking that the transaction can be completed in one day. She is in for a rude awakening—and so are the people she meets who sell her short or condescend to her. Mrs. Harris may be “ordinary” but she is not to be trifled with.

There’s a lovely irony in knowing that Manville earned an Oscar nomination playing fashion designer Daniel Day-Lewis’s overbearing sister in Phantom Thread. Her equivalent in this story is the uptight manager of Christian Dior’s salon, played with requisite hauteur by Isabelle Huppert.

If you only know Manville from that Paul Thomas Anderson film, or the varied roles she has essayed for filmmaker Mike Leigh, you might think her casting a bit odd… but if you’ve seen the brilliant British sitcom Mum you know how wonderfully well the actress plays down-to-earth women. She is a marvel, and this film is a lovely vehicle for her. It gets busy and tries to cover more ground than it really needs to, but those shortcomings can’t despoil the pleasure it has to offer. 

Paul Gallico was a popular and prolific author of short stories, children’s books, and novels. He’s probably best remembered for The Snow Goose, but Mrs. ‘Arris goes to Paris was a big success and led to three follow-up books about the spunky charwoman. Angela Lansbury played her in a 1982 TV movie. Other films based on his works include The Three Lives of Thomasina and The Poseidon Adventure.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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