A delightful confection starring Leslie Manville and fifties fashion

Anyone familiar with the films of Mike Leigh will know how good an actor Leslie Manville is, but it’s only as recently as 2017, for the performance in Phantom Threads, that this was widely acknowledged. Here she is proving it again, carrying Anthony Fabian’s adaptation of Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel with an authenticity that grounds a movie that might otherwise have been too sweet for its own good.

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris to buy a dress for no other reason that she wants one, and there is a delightful simplicity in that quest. There are obstacles aplenty in her way, not least the £500 price tag Christian Dior attaches to his haute couture creations. Set in the 1950, that’s £10,000 in today’s money – which should tip you off how improbably quickly Mrs Harris accumulates the necessary funds for her trip, notwithstanding how many of her haughty customers refuse to settle their cleaning bills. Those seeking plausibility, however, should look elsewhere. This delightful confection is packed with silly coincidence, unlikely friendships and fanciful twists of fate. It’s a testament to the cast that it nonetheless holds your attention throughout, willing Mrs Harris to triumph against the odds.   

While in Paris Lucas Bravo and Alba Baptista provide potential love interest, while Lambert Wilson is the charismatic Marquee. Back home, Jason Issacs plays nicely against type as a charming Irish bookie, while Anna Chancellor and Christian McKay provide winning cameos as her clients. Intriguingly, Ellen Thomas’s role as Mrs Harris’s best friend hints at post-Windrush Britain, but does so with a lightness of touch. This is, after all,  a film where Jenny Beavan’s costumes have a starring role, and – cross fingers – everything might just turn out all right.