Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris is a movie about an English cleaning lady who goes to Paris to buy a frock. It is a simple premise told in a straightforward manner with delightful characters, especially Mrs. Harris, that satisfies an audience’s expectations.
You might conclude that such a simple idea might not make for an engaging story but you will be surprised because the story hinges on the characters who populate Mrs. Harris’ world. They are people with warm hearts dreaming about seemingly unreachable goals who endure living and working conditions that are harsh and tolerate people who live in the rarified atmospheres of the rich and privileged.
Mrs. Harris cleans houses for wealthy lords and ladies who treat her as invisible. They make noises that are supportive of Mrs. Harris’ plight but are really concerned about their own sense of entitlement. They expect her to not only know her place but to accept it.
More than a gown; it's about a dream
Mrs. Harris is exemplified by her choice of sensible shoes while her rich employees moan about the cost of living because the cost of French Champagne has dented their ability to live indulgent lives.
At the surface level, all the characters in the movie are character types. Working class Mrs Harris and her close friend, Vi, share a drink at the pub and bet on the greyhounds, while sharing a friendship that is beyond measure. They are realistic when they describe themselves as “invisible women”. Mrs. Harris does not come from the aristocracy but she is a noble woman.
Their friend Archie is a larrikin with a heart of gold. Marquis de Chassagne is a nobleman who believes he has the pulse of the common people. He treats Mrs. Harris without judgement of her stature in life and provides her with the belief that maybe she can transcend class and find love from a gentle nobleman. Lady Dant exploits Mrs. Harris’ economic situation for her own self-centred lifestyle. Beyond character types, they also capture human emotions and become individuals with clearcut personalities.
Marquis de Chassagne, Vi, Archie & Ada Harris
Mrs. Harris’ emotional life is embodied by her desire to discover what happened to her beloved Eddie, who went to war and never returned. The answer could lie in the parcel she receives but cannot find the resolve to open. It may answer her uncertainty about Eddie for better or for worse. Vi’s stark advice to Ada is that Eddie isn’t coming back.
Ada Harris is buoyed by clinging to her day-to-day existence with her dream to one day buy an elegant gown by Christian Dior similar to the one she sees that is owned by Lady Dant, whose house she cleans. The obstacle for her is to accumulate enough money to afford the £500 it costs to own one of the gowns, plus the fare to travel to Paris. The unseen cost, as she will discover, is the elitist nature of the Dior estabblishment that excludes working class people, regardless of how much cash they display.
Mrs. Harris, Natasha & André
Th exceptions are Natasha and André, two young members of the Dior team who understand and see opportunities to break the boundaries between exclusive Paris couture and high fashion clothing for the general public.
Through a series of unexpected occurrences and good fortune, Mrs. Harris manages to get to Paris and implant herself into Christian Dior’s domain and into the hearts of the designers and workers who create the stunning gowns, dresses and frocks in Dior’s factory of couture magic.
The House of Dior: Making moonlight, not dresses
One of the notions explored in Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris relates to the shift from exclusive salon sales for designer clothes to the mass marketing of elegant clothes to everyday people. Her dream for a Dior gown results in seismic changes to the working conditions within Christian Dior’s realm of exclusivity and exploitation of the actual people who bring his designs to life. Whether you believe it is feasible for a British cleaning lady to facilitate this change depends on how much you believe someone’s values and strength of character can transcend barriers and influence people in positive ways.
Enjoy Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris as a lighthearted romp about following your dreams and the delightful bonds that unite friends that can extend to strangers who become friends. If you enjoy Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris on that level alone, you will be rewarded. Even if you think it is powered by schmaltz, it is delightful.
Or you can enjoy Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris for the delightful characters and heart-warming performances and the glamorous and elegant frocks.
Official Poster Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Pursue the movie’s underpinnings of workers demanding their rights to fair conditions and good wages and this level of enlightenment will add another dimension to the film.
For whatever reason at whatever level, make sure you share Mrs Harris' company. Whether you call her gown a dress, a frock or a gown, it is more than a gown, it is Mrs. Harris' dream because she believes the House of Dior when it says it makes “moonlight, not dresses”. And Mrs. Harris is gliding down moonbeams.
Mrs. Harris is a dreamer and there’s nothing wrong with dreaming. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a charming and pleasing interlude. Try it on for size. It’s a perfect fit.
Official Trailer Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
A rare documentary on the making of the 1949 haute couture collection, with commentary by Christian Dior himself.
(13 minutes 56 seconds)
Photo: Vogue France