In “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” Lesley Manville returns to the world of high fashion in a reversal of her Oscar-nominated role in “Phantom Thread.” Her deliciously frigid character in that film — the forbidding manager of a British fashion house and foe to Vicky Krieps’s lowborn muse — would go catatonic were Manville’s Mrs. Ada Harris to waltz into the fitting room, asking for a “frock” with her cockney drawl.
Unsurprisingly, the formidable Manville pulls off the switcheroo, instilling her role as the genial cleaning lady with a tenderness and grace that far surpasses the feel-good pish-posh that is the film around her.
Directed by Anthony Fabian, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” trades in a similar kind of British coziness as the “Paddington” movies, though it’s not as zany or funny.
Mrs. Harris, a widow toiling away in the service of the postwar London elite, has her eyes set on a custom Dior gown and, after a series of fortunate events, heads to Paris to retrieve the garment of her dreams. Despite having found the cash, our heroine must contend with the menacing Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) and the snooty mores of the biz and its patrons.
For the other world-weary employees — the kindly, philosophizing model Natasha (Alba Baptista), the lovesick accountant André (Lucas Bravo) — Mrs. Harris proves single-handedly that the rules of society aren’t necessarily ironclad. If a humble maid can get her hands on a dress that costs 600 pounds, what’s stopping Natasha from pursuing an intellectual life, or André from revolutionizing the company to appeal to women from all walks of life?
The trope of the laughably frumpy worker bee, filled with optimism and quiet wisdom, is demeaning, and Mrs. Harris’s iteration is no exception. Despite its gleeful showcasing of beautiful clothes and vibrant midcentury Parisian sights, the film is caught between its fantasies and its principles, landing somewhere more annoyingly clueless — and dull — than it ought to be.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. In theaters.