What happens when an English maid saves her money to buy a Christian Dior dress in 1957? “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is a heart-warming tale full of coincidence, good people, the joy of chasing dreams and heartbreak. While it has all the appeal of your favorite bubble gum, with glorious effects, beautiful dresses, and a story that skirts the traditional Hollywood cliches, it adds just enough salt in heartache, mistakes and reality, to give it a bit of bite. “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” can be seen as so much more than it is and, maybe, isn’t.
If you just want to enjoy a simple film that’ll help you feel better about people and life, this offering from Director and Co-writer Anthony Fabian fits the bill. It doesn’t ask you to dig deeper, but it does tell you the water is warm if you choose to explore. Spoilers follow after the trailer, so bookmark this page, watch “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” and come back when you’re done.
For 13 years, Mrs. Harris has been cleaning houses and holding onto hope that here husband will return from World War II. When she gets his ring in the mail, she has to come to terms with her loss. She knew it was coming, but the confirmation still hurts.
While cleaning for one of her rich clients, who refuses to settle the bill and complains about having to tighten her belt, Mrs. Harris sees a Christian Dior dress on the chair. It’s beautiful, and she’s instantly in love with the dress. The client tells her the dress is 500 British Pounds, and she needs to hide it from her husband. Mrs. Harris does so, and later, with a friend, she laughs at the idea of such an expensive dress.
To Be Seen
The dress is gorgeous, and it awakens Mrs. Harris’ joie de vivre. In it, she could find joy, happiness, and her sense of self. It’s only a dream without wings, so she laughs it off. However, this scene opens the eyes of the audience: “Something beautiful” or great clothes can change a person’s day and demeanor for the better. Clothes may not make the woman, but they can help her feel more positive about who she is, an idea that is explored in “My Fair Lady,” where Eliza Dolittle is dressed up like a doll and paraded around as possible royalty.
Here though, Mrs. Harris isn’t forced to wear the dress to help her appear as more than she is, societally speaking. She wants to wear it because it represents an inner need, an aspiration, a desire to be seen as a person, a vibrant woman, a human being, who is more than a cleaning woman. She doesn’t want to be invisible to those around her. This dress would, at the very least, allow her to see herself as a more fully formed woman.
Pursue Your Dreams
When Mrs. Harris wins a sports lotto, she decides she’s going to Paris to buy a Dior dress. The winnings from the lotto aren’t enough to get the dress, but they are enough to spur her into action. She tracks her income, saves her pennies, and gets invited to a dog race.
But this dream isn’t fulfilled on hard work or good luck. Instead, it’s built on a past tragedy, an honest action, and a good friend’s gift. Mrs. Harris goes to Paris – it’s the title of the film, so I guess it’s not really a spoiler. How she gets there is best left for you to see yourself.
Mrs. Harris’ pursuit of her dreams opens others up to pursuing their own dreams and passions. It’s as if the light she generates shows others the path forward. The lives she touches are better for her mere presence. When she actively engages, she gives people the opportunity to show their best selves and that allows them to follow their hearts’ desires.
Mrs. Harris is nice – too nice. She’s the kind of nice that people take advantage of without realizing they are doing so. Her trip changes her (a theme explored in the book “Bravely”). She’s still nice, and she still falls back into her old ways, but that’s a part of who she is. It’s what makes her likable, honest, and good. Paris teaches her to become assertive. Embracing her dream and being nice about it allow her to meet the boorish, rude snobs of the Dior world. Her cash on hand allows her to stay there. However, it’s her British sense of right, wrong, and order that helps her shake things up, creating a force of nature that may fail her but lifts up others before her.
Who is Mrs. Harris? Is she the cleaning lady or is there something more behind that mask? Ultimately that question – asked within the film – is something we will all have to face. Moreover, we will have to face it again and again in our lives, and every time the question is asked, we will have the opportunity to affirm the parts of us that are good and reject the parts that don’t serve us. We just have to seize the opportunity to find the better version of ourselves, regardless of our age, occupation, or others’ perceptions of who we might be.
“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is perfectly enjoyable without thinking about any of it. The audience can find a good time and good film simply by feeling it. The layers are there though, if you care to look. I suggest doing both for this wonderful, heart- and eye-opening film.
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“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” has two other versions. One done in 1958 and the other done as a TV movie with Angela Lansbury.