Anglophiles and Paul Thomas Anderson fan-persons might recognize the lead in Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, Leslie Manville, as the manipulative sister (Cyril Woodcock) in PTA’s 2017 masterpiece, The Phantom Thread.
Although these films are centered around the world of haute couture, it’s hard to imagine more different roles. While both touch on the transformative nature of high fashion, The Phantom Thread is a tense study of power dynamics, whereas Mr Harris Goes to Paris is a light, feel-good comedy.
Ada Harris (Manville) is a put-upon war widow in 1950s London, scrubbing floors and generally laboring without gratitude for the upper classes. Exposed to their wardrobes, when she comes into some money, she determines to go to Paris and buy herself a Christian Dior dress from the atelier showroom itself.
Having established her low station, the plot runs on a series of convenient coincidences and turns of luck to place her as a welcomed oddity in the world of high fashion, the entirety of Paris rallying behind her aside from the abrasive company enforcer Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert). As Ada doesn’t know the etiquette, she helps people - models, accountants and even a Marquis - cast aside their snobbish rules, in a kind of ‘innocent abroad’ romp involving everything from matchmaking to kindly vagrants.
Ada speaks almost entirely in Cockney idioms, calls everybody ‘ducks’, and makes serial remarks of the kind that Mr Dior “looks like my milkman”, though Manville’s charisma keeps it just shy of parody. The themes of working class invisibility and a life spent wishing instead of doing give it a little edge, but mostly it’s a cheery adventure without too many stakes.
It won’t change your life, and there’s a fair amount of suspension of disbelief required, but it’s a fun enough story and cor blimey guv’nor luv a duck would you Adam n' Eve it, even cynics will be rooting for old Ada by the final act. PO
Mrs Harris goes to Paris is showing now at the Prytania Canal Place
A billionaire industrialist decides he wants to leave a lasting legacy in this Spanish comedy. He decides on producing a movie with ‘the very best people’. This shakes out as the recruitment of maverick director Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz), who casts leading men Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), and Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) in an adaptation of a dramatic novel. Cuevas longs for tension during preparation, an easy task given that Rivero is a brash international movie star and Torres is a pompous classical actor. Both are put through extreme paces in the build-up to the shoot, the creative tensions embellished by the physical tension of one scene that is rehearsed directly under a huge boulder, suspended over their heads on a crane. Cuevas has an exacting vision, Torres getting ever more irritated as he is made to repeat his first line in the film - “Good evening” - multiple times ”to find the truth”. It’s a clever and acerbic satire on film making in the modern age, and on pretention and ego. The leads all relish their occasionally monstrous characters, all of them both endearing and despicable in different ways. Banderas even delivers the cliched line that male actors trot out for love scenes regarding any potential for getting physically aroused, telling his scene partner “I’m sorry if I do, and I’m sorry if I don’t”. It’s a well-balanced three-hander, and though Banderas and Martínez are both convincing and combative, it’s Cruz that steals the show with her unpredictable whimsy, devastatingly chic fashion sense and high-handed artistic process, not to mention her sublime hair. PO
Official Competition is playing now at Prytania Canal Place.