29 Sep 22
Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Jason Isaacs, Anna Chancellor, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Lambert Wilson, Rose Williams, Ellen Thomas
It's fair to say that Lesley Manville is having a moment. More than four decades after her first appearance on our screens, the admired actress – who has appeared in many Mike Leigh films and was Oscar-nominated for Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread – is bringing her career to a whole new level.
This coming November, Manville is due to appear on our screens as Princess Margaret in The Crown, and earlier this year she had a starring role in the BBC ratings smash Sherwood.
Now, however, she delivers her most high-profile leading film role to date in Mrs Harris Goes To Paris.
In this adaptation of Paul Gallico's beloved 1950s-set novel, Manville plays a London cleaning lady, Ada Harris, who still believes that her husband – who has been missing in action since World War II – will one day return to her.
When she sees a Christian Dior couture gown in the wardrobe of one of her wealthy customers, it's suddenly time for her to stop living in the past and to embrace the future.
Thanks to some good fortune, she is able to assemble the money to travel to Dior's fashion house in Paris on a mission to procure her own dress – to wear at an upcoming dance in London.
In Paris, she bumps heads with atelier boss Claudine (Isabelle Huppert), who quickly concludes that Ada does not fit the Dior customer profile.
Ada also receives the courtly attentions of an aristocratic widower (Lambert Wilson), while befriending Dior model, Natasha (Alba Baptista), and accountant André (Lucas Bravo) – who all take inspiration from Ada's romantic quest and belief in following your dreams.
Directed and co-written by Anthony Fabian, Mrs Harris Goes To Paris offers a delightful delve into a glamorous past – while remaining anchored by a singular character who provides dramatic ballast in a story of transcendent adventure.
Ada may seem like a very ordinary woman, but her extraordinary journey should resonate with the romantic in all of us.
Paris exerts a pull in our imagination as the city of love – and classic films, such as Funny Face and An American In Paris, as well 2001's Amélie, have helped define European's most romantic city for generations of movie fans.
Mrs Harris Goes To Paris skilfully plays off that magical association, while also supplying some grit in the oyster.
Dior's business is failing to adapt to changing times; not every person who helps Ada lives up to her dreams; and on occasion, Ada has to pay a price for her selfless good nature.
It is a tribute to the film's deft screenplay, not to mention the respect the international acting community has for Manville, that such a strong cast has been assembled – including Oscar-nominated acting legend Huppert as Ada's chief adversary in Paris.
The film also benefits from a rich ensemble for the scenes set in London: Jason Isaacs as a bookie with a fond regard for Ada; Ellen Thomas as her best friend Vi; and Anna Chancellor, Rose Williams and Christian McKay as her self-involved clients – who in various ways can't quite see their cleaning lady for the person she truly is.
Most of all, though, it's Manville – who is barely ever off the screen – that will emerge elevated by Mrs Harris Goes To Paris.
In a big-screen adventure that's about the power of kindness to uplift, but most of all reminding us that it's never too late to realise your dreams, the casting could hardly be more apt. Charles Gant
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