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Lesley Manville stars as Ada Harris in Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.Dávid Lukács/Courtesy of Focus Features

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

Directed by Anthony Fabian

Written by Carroll Cartwright, Anthony Fabian, Olivia Hetreed and Keith Thompson, based on the novel by Paul Gallico

Starring Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert and Jason Isaacs

Classification PG; 115 minutes

Opens in theatres July 15

She’s a right nice lady, that Ada Harris (Lesley Manville). A professional housekeeper in 1957 London, she lives quite a pleasant, independent life, caring for clients like the rich philanderer, the messy starlet and the penny-pinching countess. She has a best pal, Vi (Ellen Thomas), to chat with at the pub, where a cheeky bloke named Archie (Jason Isaacs) always takes a minute to flirt with her before dashing off to his eternally younger dates. But she’s a bit stuck and all.

Until she spies an exquisite Christian Dior gown in the countess’s closet (the House of Dior happily participated in the film), and vows to purchase her own. With the help of a few magical coincidences, off she trots to Paris, where she nudges Dior’s accountant (Lucas Bravo) and top model (Alba Baptista) into love, and even, eventually, charms Dior’s frosty front woman (Isabelle Huppert), who initially finds her unworthy of owning couture. Along the way she leads a labour strike and invents prêt-à-porte.

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The film is based on a novel by Paul Gallico.Dávid Lukács/Courtesy of Focus Features

Manville, a reliably spiky actress who earned an Oscar nomination for playing her own version of an intimidating fashionista in Phantom Thread, does what she can to keep treacle at bay – she allows a welcome bit of flint to peep from underneath Ada’s goodness, and it’s fun to watch her knock some poseurs down a peg. The vintage Dior creations and Paris settings (including a dance number at the Moulin Rouge) are lovely, and if you’re anxious and world-weary and you want the next season of Emily in Paris to hurry up and arrive, this film may be just the ticket. It does feel churlish to complain about a project that simply wants everyone to feel good about having dreams and making them come true.

But ultimately, all those screenwriters weren’t able to shake the 1957 out of Paul Gallico’s source novel: Ada’s dream of beauty is a limited (and commercial) one, and her triumph smacks of Cinderella crossed with Mary Poppins. The bargain-basement knock-off of this movie, minus Manville and Dior, would not look out of place on Lifetime or Hallmark.

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