Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris – Marked Down (3*)

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is, ultimately, a Hallmark Christmas movie with the bonus of wonderful costumes and terrific acting from Lesley Manville. (3*)
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris – Snapshot

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a Hallmark Christmas movie with great costumes and some desperately terrific acting from Lesley Manville.  You will need tissues to watch this film, but view it only if you like being manipulated! (3*)

Where to Watch:

Stream: Peacock

Rent: Prime/YouTube/Apple/Google/Vudu ($4)

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris – The Oscar Buzz 

Oscar Nominations:

Costume Design (Jenny Beavan)

The best thing about Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris are the costumes, especially the Dior Designs the models wear during the fashion show.  Clearly Ms. Beavan captured the elegant essence of Haute Couture.  While the gowns are clear highlights, also pay attention to the day-to-day wear that Mrs. Harris and her friends wear during the rest of the film.  Even in those designs, Beavan captures the look and feel of London and Paris street clothes during the late 1950s.  The nomination is deserved.

But it isn’t Beavan’s first.  She’s been nominated a dozen times before for mostly British films including The King’s Speech (10), Gosford Park (01) and Anna and the King (99).  And she won the Costume Oscar for A Room with a View (85), Mad Max: Fury Road (15), and, most recently, Cruella (21).  She’s been at this a long time and, obviously, knows what she’s doing.

Other prior year Oscar nominees, and winners include:

Writer (Gallico – wrote the original novel) : The Pride of the Yankees (42)

Editor (Pilling) : Grand Budapest Hotel (14)

Production Design (Arrighi): Anna and the King (99) (WINNER) / The Remains of the Day (93) / Howard’s End (92) (WINNER

Acting (Manville) : Phantom Thread (17)

Acting (Huppert) : Elle (16)

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris – The Movie’s Family Tree

The Following Movies Share Talent with This One

 (and if you like these films, you might like this one):

 The Go-Between (15) : Cinematography (Wiedemann); Acting (Manville)

Sense and Sensibility (95) / The Remains of the Day (93) / Anna and the King (99): Production Design (Arrighi); Costumes (Beavan)

Most of the crew and many in the cast  of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris have their backgrounds in British television, which I don’t know well at all.  But I did find shared movie work in some of the Oscar nominations and in the films listed above.  The movie is based on a book of similar name by Paul Gallico who also wrote the book The Poseidon Adventure, which was made into a movie.  Lesley Manville is perhaps best known for her work in the television series The Crown.  So there are a few connections for those who like to make them.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris – What Others Think

By design, the last movies I review of each year are likely not the best ones.  There are some exceptions and, sometimes, there are films that really shine in one particular filmmaking art.  Such is the case with Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.  And the audience reactions and reviews reflect that.  Based on just 25K ratings, the film ranks ninth out of all 25 general interest films, tied with Glass Onion.  (Note, however, my source rankings aren’t consistent, so this is an average!)

Critics, understandably, weren’t quite so generous, placing it smack dab in the middle of this year’s general interest films, just slightly ahead of Blonde.  Caspar Salmon (Sight&Sound) wrote “Though initially engaging, and with suitably excellent costume design, this twee Lesley Manville vehicle ends up feeling entirely insubstantial.”  Later he complains “…by the film’s conclusions, viewers of a flintier disposition may feel they’ve been made to swallow a few too many charming coincidences, uplifting twists and heartstring-tuggin resolutions.”  Beatrice Loayza (New York Times) said “…the film is caught between its fantasies and its principles, landing somewhere more annoyingly clueless – and dull – than it ought to be.”  Tomris Laffly (RogerEbert) sums it all up nicely “the world isn’t the happiest place to be these days, so why not cheer a little bit for a wholesome, decent character in a lovely dress.”  

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris – Special Mention

Dior – and yes, we are speaking the luxury fashion house of Christian Dior.  Last year I reviewed House of Gucci, a movie that also involved a famous fashion designer, although I didn’t find much to like in that film.  In Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris we move from Italy to Paris and specifically the Haute Couture of Christian Dior.  Because so much of the movie revolves around this specific fashion company – although not so much the namesake person – I looked it up.  Here is some of what I found :

Christian Dior founded his fashion design business in 1946 or 1947 (apparently it is in debate).  And he had his first show on 2/12/47 involving 90 different gowns displayed on six mannequins.  His most famous design, the Bar Suit, was thought to drive a post-war explosion of interest in emphasizing the female form as opposed to the uniform fashion of the war years.  The “New Look” inspired fashion design for years.  But, significantly, within three years, Dior exports (sales out of the country) accounted for 5% of the entire French export business.  And after Christian Dior died in 1957  (which is the same year the movie is set), his design responsibilities fell to Yves Saint Laurent whose Beat and Bohemian look wasn’t received well.  Saint Laurent left Dior after only six shows.  Still, Dior, as of a year ago, had 535 “retail” locations around the globe and is considered one of the top ten fashion houses along with names like Chanel, Gucci, Armani, Alexander McQueen, and Celine.  

Even today a cleaning lady’s desires for a Dior fashion gown are, at best, unusual but not usually granted!

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris – Michael’s Moments

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is, quite obviously, a Hallmark Christmas movie dressed up with some great costumes and a remarkable performance by the acclaimed British actress Lesley Manville.  It has a completely formulaic script where the first act lays out the characters with their problems and desires.  The second act shows the main character going through ups and downs and guides us to loving her.  The final act resolves her situation and then takes it away and then gives back another resolution.  It, like the Hallmark films, seems to exist to do just one thing – make you cry in total sympathy with this woman’s life.  She could, easily, be you or me and, lord knows, we all need some help.

Hallmark Christmas movies do not naturally make it into Oscar competition and, to be fair, this one only briefly has anything to do with Christmas.  But Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris ended up on the 2023 Oscar list for two reasons, I think.  

First, and the reason it received a nomination, was because of the costumes.  The obvious scene involving just amazing fashion design is the Dior fashion show which Ada (Mrs. Harris) manages to get into in a manner that involves more luck and connivance than any normal scriptwriter would stoop to give us.  But she does and, because she does, the rest of the movie, as improbable as it might be, is allowed to happen.  The dresses on display, supposedly in a show in 1957, are, even to my primitive mind, absolutely stunning.  And the show goes on for at least a dozen different outfits, all of them exquisite works of art.  (Now, mind you, this is coming from someone who has little “fashion sense” and would, normally, tell Joan that she looks good in just about anything that isn’t too frumpy!)

But the fashion show isn’t the only reason it was nominated for costumes.  Look closely at what all the characters are wearing and think about what the late 1950s might have looked like.  The work clothes Ada and Vi use when they are cleaning houses are spot-on examples of what they should be wearing.  Even the men are dressed as we might expect a post-war gentleman to be.

The second reason to watch this movie is the acting of Lesley Manville.  An accomplished British actress who gave us a terrific performance in Phantom Thread, she delivers here nuanced feelings that stir the viewer into riding the emotional roller coaster she is definitely feeling.  Whether she is smiling or sad, we are convinced we are on the journey with her.

But even Lesley Manville and several other supporting actors can’t make up for an atrocious script and absolutely poor direction.  I can’t for the life of me understand why it took three screenwriters, plus the director, Anthony Fabian, to write such a simple story.  And perhaps this is an example of “too many chefs spoil the broth”, but there just isn’t any really effective dialogue that doesn’t dredge up standard cliches.  And, finally, the direction, like so many Hallmark movies, seems to have the feeling of “please, lets get this done so I can get out of here and on to my next movie – which is way more bigger than this one!”  

You need to watch this movie with a box of Kleenex by your side.  Not because the emotional effects are strong and lasting, but because they are pungent and brief.  Like a Hallmark Christmas movie, you won’t remember it the next morning.  Still, my wife liked it, it had great costumes and Lesley Manville, so:  (3*)

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
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