Mrs. Ada Harris , a widowed London cleaning woman (Lesley Manville) comes into a windfall of money, and decides to give herself a bit of luxury and buy a dress from Dior in Paris. While there, she navigates through an array of characters, including a snooty director of Dior (Isabelle Huppert), a French aristocrat (Lambert Wilson), a blossoming romance between an accountant and model for Dior (Lucas Bravo and Alba Baptista), and a worker's dispute on the streets of pairs and inside the house of Dior...
Much like 'The Duke' from earlier this year, you could be easily forgiven for writing off something like 'Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris' as a fun but staid dramedy that's churned out every couple of years with relative ease by everyone involved. 'Salmon Fishing In The Yemen' or 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' are two such examples - perfectly fine, decent cast attached, utterly forgettable and unremarkable. Instead, what you had in 'The Duke' and have here in 'Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris' is a remarkable weaving of Ealing Comedy stylings and a celebration of worker solidarity and a sharp rebuke of class divides.
When Mrs. Harris arrives in Paris to buy a Christian Dior dress, she's naturally pushed aside by the snooty director - Isabelle Huppert expertly playing it high-handed and irredeemable - in favour of the high-class clientele. Yet, it's the workers in Dior - the accountant, the models, the seamstresses - who recognise Mrs. Harris as one of their own who has come to Dior with her money, some of it coming from a windfall but most of it from savings. After all, why should the rich get the best - in this case, a Dior dress - when they are the least likely to savour and appreciate it?
What's so heartwarming about 'Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris' is that absolutely nobody questions why a middle-aged woman from London is buying a Dior dress. She has the money, she's entitled to buy it, and who doesn't deserve a bit of luxury now and then? Moreover, it's shown time and again in 'Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris' that the rich are frequently the ones least likely to pay their debts and most likely to utilise graft and corruption to grow their wealth. By the end, there's a little more balance in the world and wrongs are righted to triumphant cheers of the workers.
Lesley Manville's performance lights up the screen, and her easy charm and delightful delivery of home truths carry the whole thing away in a breeze. There's such confidence in her that even when it's a light comedy such as this, you're still completely transfixed. Her work with the likes of Mike Leigh gives her an awareness of how to treat the class issues in the movie in a smart and dignified way, but her comedic work is just as strong in this as well. Isabelle Huppert is a perfect screen partner for her, bouncing off her implacable Frenchness like a rubber ball.
If there's a fault with 'Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris', it's in its ending which feels almost like it was hurriedly sewn together to give it a warm conclusion rather than a meaningful end. Still, it's a minor issue when everything before it flows together so beautifully.
The style may be direct and simple, but there's a sharp elegance in how 'Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris' plays off disparate themes and tones that makes it one of the most enjoyable comedies of the year.