" I have heard of the arrogant male in capitalistic society. It is having a superior earning power that makes you that way. "
— Greta Garbo, Ninotchka

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Alias: Season Three

In its third season, Alias pulls off a hat trick with another round of pulpy page-turner adventure —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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It’s hard to resist the delicate charms of watching Mrs. Harris and her pursuit of a bedazzling Dior gown.

The Misses and the Dresses

Mrs Harris (Lesley Manville)
Mrs Harris (Lesley Manville)

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a sweet bit of PG-rated counterprogramming to the big-budget extravaganzas of the summer season. It’s a pleasant little lark in which good triumphs over evil and (Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige, please take note) it does so without a climactic boss battle.

Mrs. Ada Harris (Lesley Manville, an Oscar nominee for her performance in Phantom Thread) is a housekeeper, friend, lottery player, faithful wife, confidante, advisor and seamstress. She puts others before herself. And yet she also dares to dream.

Ada’s life is a blend of kismet and serendipity as she lives the good, honest life and it all comes from the mind of Paul Gallico, an American-born Anglophile who moved to England in 1936. Gallico introduced the world to Mrs. Harris back in 1957 with her adventure in Paris. Subsequent stories followed her to New York and Moscow, with perhaps her most perilous and character-challenging adventure being the time when she became a Member of Parliament in 1965.

As the movie opens, she finds out the inevitable; her dear husband, Eddie, was killed in action during World War II — way back in 1944. It was a confirmation delayed by 13 years, one that forces her hand to step out and do something good for herself for a change.

Last Night in Battersea

Ultimately, Mrs. Harris’ story is all about dignity and self-respect. At the risk of sounding like Stuart Smalley, she’s smart enough, she’s good enough and gosh darn it, people like her. They really, really like her.

That self-respect is put to the test time and again as Mrs. Harris endures the snootiness of her housekeeping clients and the upper ranks of the House of Dior. She’s told she’s a nobody. She’s told she’s invisible. Surely anybody who’s ever been run over by the misplaced superiority complexes of others can relate to her struggle. It’s a very real struggle given those with bloated egos and a remarkably overstated sense of self-worth are legion.

There’s also a quiet savviness about Mrs. Paris Goes to Harris that flips the tables. For one, the curt and stodgy Madame Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert, La Dentelliere) is not much better off when she’s back home with her husband in a less-than-luxe apartment. But then there’s also the stunningly beautiful “face” of Dior, Natasha (Alba Baptista, Warrior Nun), who’d rather curl up with a good book than attend yet another red-carpet gala.

Mrs. Harris overcomes one obstacle after another. Her quick, one-night pop over to Paris turns into an extended stay in Paris to accommodate Dior’s personal touch and multiple fitting sessions. And yet things fall into place, including free accommodations supplied by a young entrepreneur in the House of Dior, Andre Fauvel (Lucas Bravo, Emily in Paris).

The stories of Ada, Natasha and Andre dovetail together; their threads intertwine and form a cozy blanket sewn together through perseverance and finding one’s place. In this age of selfishness over selflessness, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris cuts through the noise and gently suggests it’s okay to take a step back, take a deep breath and get back to a healthy, grounded center.

House of Dior

Natasha (Alba Baptista)
Natasha (Alba Baptista)

Gallico prefaces his Paris adventure with a note that while the House of Dior is most certainly real, all the characters are fictitious. Certainly, that excludes Christian Dior himself, who plays a pivotal role in Ada’s fashion adventure. Gallico’s story has even been embraced by the House of Dior, with members serving as consultants on this production. Director and co-writer Anthony Fabian along with collaborators who’ve adapted other properties (including The Girl With a Pearl Earring, The Sapphires and the true story behind Louder Than Words) bring a nice humanity to the widowed Ada’s quest.

Mrs. Harris arrives at Dior’s doorstep on the very day he launches his 10th anniversary collection in front of the French elite and media. (The timing is accurate; Dior opened for business in 1947 and — coincidentally — died in 1957.) But the story throws in themes of a worker revolution signaling the end of businesses treating workers poorly while still expecting unwavering loyalty in return. This thread strikes close to modern life in the wake of the Great Resignation while other headwinds make many question whether Dior is operating a sustainable business.

Some of this story fabricated around the French House of Dior sounds strikingly like the financial challenges faced by the Italian House of Gucci decades later. So much stress and expense and personal attention goes into every single gown, only the crustiest of the upper crust (and one hellbent — in the most tasteful sense — Mrs. Harris) can possibly afford it. Therewith, Andre breaks ranks and encourages Dior to branch out and provide smaller luxury items that women around the world and from a wider range of economic backgrounds could afford and thereby become a part of the Dior business family. These business dynamics also take the stage in House of Gucci. But, aside from that thematic bond, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is the antithesis of everything else in Ridley Scott’s salacious (and highly entertaining) drama of murder and haute couture.

The Dior reality, though, is much more colorful. After Christian’s passing, it’s an up-and-comer who takes his place at the front of the house. A 21-year-old kid named Yves Saint Laurent.

As tempting — and entertaining — as it is to parse out fact from fiction, that isn’t the endgame for this comforting modern fairy tale that has endured and held an adoring audience for more than 60 years. This is a simple — almost Mayberry-like — story about good manners that suggests there is still hope for us all.

Best of all, it’s a hope that doesn’t require the intervention of superheroes adorned in fancy capes and magical bracelets.

It simply requires the belief in oneself.