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It’s unfortunate that Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris sees Lucas Bravo appear as a smitten French dreamboat: his presence recalls another vehicle in which he plays the same role, namely the accursed Netflix series Emily in Paris. The ghost of that show hangs over this initially engaging period piece, whose quirks finally descend into full-blown smuggery as a succession of honh-honh-honh-ing Frenchies line up to sigh, “Oh Meessees ‘arris” at Lesley Manville’s indomitable Cockney sparrow.
Manville plays the kindly but put-upon Ada Harris – a cleaner and war widow who suddenly comes into some money and jets off to Paris with the dream of buying a Dior dress – with pleasing determination, and the right dose of grief motivating her eccentric behaviour. Mrs. Harris, a genial, salt-of-the-earth type (picture Vera Drake crossed with Paddington and you’ll be in the right ballpark), soon wins over a phalanx of models, management figures, designers, and even Christian Dior himself. Predictable fish-out-of-water comedy ensues, leading to the film’s nicest gag, just after Mrs. Harris has cooked toad in the hole for two glamorous young Parisians. “Crapaud… dans le trou?” they whisper to each other in alarm.
Mrs. Harris’s dreams of a glamorous life, of owning one beautiful object, place this film in the realm of fantasy, and at times there is a kind of appeal to its starry-eyed reverie. But by the film’s conclusion, viewers of a flintier disposition may feel they’ve been made to swallow a few too many charming coincidences, uplifting twists and heartstring-tugging resolutions. Take the way Mrs. Harris comes into her money: not only does she win some cash on the football lottery, she also comes into her widow’s pension that very week, and receives a reward for handing a diamond ring in to the cops; plus her old pal Archie (Jason Isaacs) put a tenner on the dogs for her, and guess what? Nothing terrible ever seems to befall this woman without an immediate knock on the door and a smiling errand-boy at the threshold announcing a remarkable turnaround in fortune.
Save for its wobbly editing and the cloying supporting-actor style that’s usually the preserve of Netflix, the film’s production values are solid. One dreamy sequence of Mrs. Harris luxuriating in the beauty of a gown attains a suitably camp grandeur, and the great Jenny Beavan’s costume design nails both the haute and the basse couture, hinting at Mrs. Harris’s fashion smarts from the get-go. Viewers undelighted by the adventures of Emily, however, are unlikely to be very taken by those of Mrs. Harris in the same city.
► Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is in UK cinemas now.