- After watching “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” I could have literally danced all night.
It was a challenging day. The gentle essence of life was disrupted by an unexpected outburst. I cleared the air. Finished my work. Ordered a dish of cheesy nachos with jalapeño peppers. A cool fizzy soda. And settled in the overstuffed recliners at the Carmike Theater. The movie was Anthony Fabian’s “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.”
Nothing like some alone time with a good old-fashioned story to soothe ruffled nerves. A Cinderella-like fairy tale adapted from Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel (“Mrs. Arris Goes to Paris”). The main character is Ada Harris, a charming fairy godmother-type English war widow/ humble housekeeper. Ada believes in love, she believes in kindness. She mends dresses and broken hearts and shares cups of good old-fashioned English tea from her portly tea kettle wrapped in a crocheted woolen tea cosy.
One day while cleaning a client’s apartment she comes across a Christian Dior dress. The style, cut and feel of this floral frock transports her. She has a dream. A penchant. A desire to go to the house of Dior and buy an haute-couture dress. Only, she has the grit of a Briton. So, she saves and skimps. The indefatigable do-gooder that she is, people and nature align with her. Before long she has saved bundles of money by missing bus rides, taking in extra mending, running errands, and sitting pets. Topped off by an unexpected win at the races and long-awaited pension from her deceased army man (she still keeps his black and white photo on her nightstand on an old-fashioned lace doily).
One fine day as though it was as “easy as pie,” Mrs. Harris ends up in Paris on a short plane ride with her head resting on a stranger’s shoulder and enters the great city with a “worn” brown leather suitcase much like Paddington the bear. But then the lovely Ada (Lesley Manville, with an irrepressible twinkle in her eyes) puts her chin up and marches to the House of Dior on Avenue Montaigne.
I myself spent $200 on a designer dress on Rodeo Drive, in Los Angeles 30 years ago when I had only $220 in my pocket. But that chic “black dress” was worth every penny and I still wear it from time to time. There is nothing superfluous or extravagant about a well-made dress. The perfect dress makes a woman confident and opens doors for her.
Mrs. Harris attends the fashion show by showing her rolls of cash to the accountant and catching the eye of a French aristocrat Marquis de Chassagne (who had recently lost his wife). Ada oohs and aahs over every Dior dress displayed by Parisian models but her favorites are the shimmery, crimson-red tea-length dress, Temptation, and an emerald-green gown called Venus. Venus and Temptation.
But as luck would have it, her first choice is desired by another popular Dior patron, so she settles for the second choice. But she has to stay in Paris for fittings. She agrees to stay as a house guest in the handsome accountant André (Lucas Bravo)’s apartment, and also brings him and the philosophical top model Natasha (Alba Baptista) together. Ada can’t charm her way Mary Poppins-style into the heart of the finicky and uppity master designer Cyril Woodcock but she wins him over with her needlework.
Ada comes across almost like Maggie Thatcher with her purse and straight shoulders but she has to butt heads with the label’s head Claudine Colbert Isabelle Huppert. That’s the last French cheese straw to fall in her favor. And then she is home again with her dress… jiggety-jig (due apologies to “Blade Runner.” Or is she? There is many a slip between a dress and a …
Regardless, all’s well that ends well. The final moment is predictable but disarming. I clapped with exuberance for Ada (and other authentic women like her). She was elegant, every bit a model. Floating onto the dance floor like a diva dressed in a rustling crimson concoction. Not only did she get the “gown of her dreams” but another chance to love.
I could have literally “danced all night” but left the theater wanting to pop a “bubbly French Champagne with my mother.” Mrs. Harris reminds me of my mother so… She had a lovely taste and an impeccable sense of style. She could walk from morning tea to an evening affair with a string of pearls around her neck like a fashionista. Her needlework was perfect, she reproduced so many designer dresses for me. But that’s another story. Meanwhile “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is now playing in theaters.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM and the Princess Theater.