Photo: Dvid Lukcs/ 2021 Ada Films Ltd – Harris Squared Kft/Focus Features
Mrs. Harris goes to Paris is, despite its deceptively simple premise, many things. Yes, it’s about a working-class widow from post-war London who travels to Paris just to buy a Dior dress. It’s also a nicecore inversion of ghost yarn, sharing a star with Lesley Manville and the airy aesthetic of a 1950s atelier. He employs Gump logic with its fictional thread altering the course of real history; in this case, she convinces Dior to develop non-couture products for an emerging consumer class, saving the company. Last years Gucci House touched similar territory, but where this movie disappointed with its indifference to couture itself, Mrs Harris makes tailoring an A-plot and treats dresses as members of her ensemble. The story is dresses, says writer-director Anthony Fabian.
Fabian is not exaggerating. In Mrs Harris, the dresses are pivots on which the action turns. They are Manvilles’ stage partners; they bring forth character growth and moments of joy, admiration, resolution and sorrow. That’s a lot of weight to put on a bespoke fabric. Jenny always talks about clothes not as clothes but as a way to tell a story. It is never purely aesthetic. It is, Does it tell the story in the best possible way? says Fabian, referring to Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan, who created 20 Dior-inspired dresses, including approximations of the three most important (fictional) dresses described by Paul Gallico in his 1958 novel, Mrs. Arris goes to Paris those called Ravissant, Venus and Temptation.
Ravishing is the first Dior dress Ms. Harris, who works as a housekeeper, has laid eyes on. A full-skirted lavender number encrusted with sequins and floral appliqués, it’s draped over a chair in the bedroom of one of Mrs. Harris’s employers, the wealthy Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor). When Mrs. Harris turns her attention to him, he almost begins to glow as if activated by Manville’s gaze. Some people have described this moment as the cute meeting from the movie you know, in a romantic comedy, where the two main characters meet for the first time and fall in love, says Fabian. There’s almost a sort of interaction between her and the dress. He calls the scene a wonderful example of true collaboration, with Beavan carefully selecting glitter and other reflective materials that would play with the light in a magical way. And then Felix Wiedemann, our cameraman, played with what Jenny had given him with the light.
Beavan points out that we never see either Lady Dant or Mrs. Harris wearing the dress, although in one of the film’s finest moments, Manville holds the dress to herself in the closet mirror. With his floral work shirt appearing underneath, anchoring us to where Harris is in the present, Ravissant transforms it and transforms the film itself, freezing time in a vaporous suspension. It is a reminder that the original meaning of the word charm was a magic spell. Right now, the screen seems to open up, and there are multiple reflections of her, and it’s almost like all the different versions of Ada that could have been or could exist, says Fabian. This visual establishes an opening to the past and the future that marks this film as something special. Mrs. Harris is a widow in her sixties; he’s not the kind of character we normally see on screen in a role about personal transformation and someone in the making. But what she does as an actress at that time is suddenly lose about 20 years. There’s something about her expression, her peace, her joy, her utter rapture that makes her ravishingly beautiful in that moment, and that’s the impact the dress has on her soul, on her psyche. , somehow.
Photo: Dvid Lukcs/ 2021 Ada Films Ltd – Harris Squared Kft/Focus Features
If Ravishing is the movies’ call to action, then the Dior fashion show is the big action set. For a few visually lavish minutes, Ms Harris sits among an audience of wealthy Parisian shoppers at a Dior fashion show. The scene features 20 looks based on the Dior archives, including five dresses on loan from the house’s heritage collection, which aren’t original ’50s pieces but pieces they remade, Beavan says. She and her team recreated the other 15 looks, many of which had only black-and-white photographs as reference points. It was very, very important to bring color to the show’s palette, says Beavan. The point is, these must be pieces that Ms. Harris finds wonderful.
And she certainly does. The magic of this scene, of a woman sitting on a chair looking at dresses, is that Fabian, Beavan and Manville manage to make it a captivating cinema. Mrs. Harris gasps and faints at every look that comes through the door. Sometimes she mumbles praise under her breath or bursts into small applause. Fabian staged the scene to get this breathless performance from Manville. I think a lot of Lesley’s reactions were really genuine because we ran the show like it was a real show. We did it in the order you roughly see it, he said. The girls were changing in the meantime, we had to stop a bit if the change was too fast, but we really tried to present it as a fashion show.
The whole scene is a depiction of what it feels like to be utterly enraptured by beauty. It’s not enough to highlight the looks; the scene must communicate how the looks make Ms. Harris feel. It was very, very important that the show be seen through his eyes, says Fabian. So everything about choosing camera angles was largely from Lesley’s perspective. Sometimes that means extraordinarily intimate POV moments, like when model Natasha (Alba Baptista) winks at Ms. Harris as she steps into the show’s final look, a wedding dress. Others are more ornamental and abstract, as when the red Temptation dress rotates above the head, deployed in quadruple vision. It looks like an image from a Busby Berkeley musical and references an earlier shot of Ms Harris holding Ravishing, inviting the viewer into her fantasy. Temptation is based on Diablotine, a red sequined dress from the 1957 Diors collection that Beavan adapted for the character of Manville. If you have bright red, it will just look gross, she says. Temptation had to feel appropriate for an older protagonist, but seductive enough to be the glamorous pinnacle of the film. So Beavan sequined the dress for a cinematic effect, but added a layer of black tulle to soften the overall look. They paired the dress with a removable bolero top to give Manville two out of one looks and therefore two opportunities for an outfit reveal (one for the whole crowd and one just for Jason Isaacs’ character, Archie).
But the dress that sees the most action by far in Mrs. Harris goes to Paris is Venus, a green silk gown with an elaborate silver peacock-shaped applique along the neckline and front. This is a costume with its own character arc in three acts. We see it being crafted, in its complete form, and (spoiler alert!) burned to a raggedy crisp. It’s a costume that required many duplicates, both for the etching and sewing scenes and for it to be worn by three different actors. Some of the finest scenes in the film are those of Mrs. Harris attending her fittings in the studio; they mark her growth during her stay in Paris as Venus progresses from foundations to final dress. John Bright made this dress, Beavan says. He’s got real deals in his collection, and he understands how they’re made, so when you see him in half-dress state, that’s totally fine. These scenes underscore the care with which the film treats subject matter that others may consider frivolous (or totally disposable). [cough] Gucci House [cough]). I always appreciate that it looks authentic because there are certain other movies made about fashion where you feel like people haven’t quite understood the methodology.
Fabian says this attention to detail serves the story as much as it made scenes like the fitting, the fashion show, and the first confrontation in the anteroom believable. Ada is a fantastic character, but Dior is a real fashion house, so we had to make reality real for the fairy tale to really work. And I think Dior really appreciated that we went that far not only to recreate the dresses but also the interior of the Maison Dior. We used the architectural drawings, and that was terribly important because the relationship between the different spaces was essential for the scenes. The stark white studio interiors and stark white coats of the seamstresses in these scenes allow Mrs. Harris to appear fully in Venus; it changes as much as the dress with each sewing session. Lesley has often said that this scene from her fitting is one of her favorites the way it was filmed. She liked the whole picture of this scene.
The sequence in which Venus is lent to budding actress Pamela Penrose (Rose Williams) is both wacky and tragic, striking a difficult tonal balance. It was dramatically necessary, I’m afraid, said Fabian. You still have to cause a lot more trouble for your characters than you normally would like. In fact, Paul Gallico has a terrible tendency to save his characters too soon. As the scriptwriter, we had to find ways to raise the stakes and increase the obstacles rather than push his way through it. The answer, of course, was to set the dress on fire. This is a devastating moment not only for Mrs. Harris but, I have come to realize, also for Beavan. Between Mrs. Harris goes to Paris and the last years Cruel, his painstaking artistic work has a horrible tendency to ignite.
For God’s sake! she says when I approach her. I entirely blame the various screenwriters for getting me into this. And thank goodness for the visual effects because I think in Cruel we did it very well. I mean, people always ask me, did you really burn the dress? I think, Would you do that to Emma Stone? I do not think so. But no, I have no idea. I’m sure things were burning right now MadMax. Aside from flames and destruction, think Beavan Mrs. Harris goes to Paris couldn’t be more timely or more essential. It’s a movie for everyone, and at a wonderful time, with the world falling apart, it’s just what you need.
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