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Close-Up with Camenker Volume XXXVI, Movie Review: MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS

August 10, 2022

I had the good fortune to study abroad in Paris during the summer of 2014 just before beginning my junior year of college. I had been learning French since I was in middle school and continued my studies through college, so the thought of going abroad to France had always been a dream of mine. I pictured myself with ease seated at a café along a famous French boulevard, admiring the view along the Seine, and indulging in classical art. Ever since my six weeks in Paris, I have always gravitated toward anything Parisian or Francophone.

When I saw ads for MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS, I thought it looked adorable. The premise of a middle-aged cleaning woman in England dreaming of buying her own Dior dress sounded inviting and clever. Little did I realize that the new film adaptation is based on a 1958 novel that has been adapted on stage and as a made for TV movie a few times before. It sounds as though it was never popular in the United States, which is sometimes the case for films or novels that are more European.

Nevertheless, this film is a treat and it is easy to see why it has played at Red River for four weeks now. The setting is beautiful and captures the late 1950s perfectly. Alternating between London and Paris, you are exposed to the beauty of both cities, which are among my favorites in the world. Even if you’ve never been or are not familiar, you will delight in how the scenery is presented alongside a bygone decade. The costuming is equally exquisite, which you’d expect from a film that centers around Dior clothing.

Famed English actress Lesley Manville plays the title character, a bubbly London widow with high-end clients and a heart of gold. Manville, whose film, theatre, and television credits are extensive, is a brilliant choice for Mrs. Harris. You cannot help but grow to love her as you watch her navigate the ups and downs of living a widowed life. 

This sweetheart of a role is a far cry from work in 2017’s PHANTOM THREAD as the sister of dressmaker Daniel Day-Lewis in which she is a cold fish to say the least. I appreciate seeing a performer’s range role to role and Manville certainly demonstrates it here. I am excited to see her play Princess Margaret in the last two seasons of THE CROWN on Netflix.

Speaking of great performers with extensive filmography and range, two of the supporting parts are played by Isabelle Huppert and Jason Isaacs, who are among my favorites of their generation. Huppert is perfect as Claudine Colbert, a snobby executive at Dior who is set in her ways and not afraid to show it. She has some great moments with Manville and chews at the scenery once or twice. Her range is noticeable too for those of us who’ve seen her in other roles.

Jason Isaacs plays Archie, a good friend of Mrs. Harris and fellow Londoner. Though only in a short part of the movie, he is delightful as always and it is nice to see him play a gentleman this time as he has often played brash characters or villains. I had no idea it was him until the credits started! Talk about transformation.

The whole cast is really strong and work incredibly well together, focusing on their relationships among each other throughout. Lucas Bravo from EMILY IN PARIS and Ellen Thomas, who plays Mrs. Harris’ best friend back in London, round out what is really a strong ensemble of varied performers.

Above all else, MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS is just a “feel good” movie in every sense of the phrase. Many of its characters are grounded in lives that we may be able to recognize; ones filled with hope and triumph, loss and loneliness. The story takes us on a ride that is both joyful and disappointing, realistically capturing what everyday people face.

Sure, there are some moments where you wonder if things are a little too good to be true (something you may wonder if you’re ever standing in front of a big monument like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, wanting to pinch yourself!), but it still reads as a very relatable piece, particularly for those of us who have ventured out on our own. 

It’s the type of film we all could use right now if we want a good lift; a film that will leave us giggling and smiling while also tugging at our heartstrings a little, too. I’m glad to see it’s done so well for Red River and hope as many folks as possible catch it before it leaves. The crowd on Friday was a good size and it was a film you could tell was seen in good company, something we all yearn for when it comes to a “feel good” movie.

Stay tuned for Volume XXXVII of “Close-Up with Camenker,” which will return soon!

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