Early in Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, before Mrs. Harris goes to Paris, she opens a box belonging to a self-absorbed woman whose home she cleans. Inside is a sparkling baby-pink dress, the kind Mrs. Harris could never herself afford, in or out of Paris. She picks it up and hugs it to her chest, eyes aglow. The audience knows immediately that Mrs. Harris will somehow wind up in that dress, or one like it, by the movie’s end. The title tells us this will probably happen in Paris. (Mrs. Haris lives in London.) Here, predictability is no handicap. Knowing the stakes, low as they may be, is part of the joy.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is what one might call a British-lady comfort movie. The genre hinges on some degree of bubbly ease, on tension that will be soothed with the acquisition of, say, a fancy gown or a best exotic marigold hotel (see: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). It often involves two or more adversaries finding common ground, possibly while running competing restaurants located 100 feet apart (see: The Hundred-Foot Journey). Judi Dench makes a full English breakfast out of these roles (see: Tea with Mussolini, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Philomena, Victoria & Abdul, not one but two Marigold Hotels).
Mrs. Harris is portrayed by the equally gifted Lesley Manville, best known for Phantom Thread, Harlots, and the films of Mike Leigh. She adopts the gleeful eyes of a romantic and the gait of someone easily wowed by sights that have long grown dull to anyone of higher social standing. Relentlessly optimistic, Mrs. Harris makes little fuss about her lot in life. Manville is careful not to make her too daffy, understanding that awe shouldn’t equate naivete. This is someone who gets things done. She simply skips the cynicism that hobbles so much of the world. Manville’s wisdom as a performer is to make that look easy. What if we all had her cheer?
Whatever the details, these movies are fundamentally good-natured. That’s the primary stipulation. Take Calendar Girls, the 2003 charmer in which Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Penelope Wilton, and Celia Imrie-two of whom also appear in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel-play unassuming senior citizens who raise money for leukemia research by posing in a nude calendar, their naughty bits hidden behind fruits or household appliances. The story’s only true conflict is whether the women’s newfound celebrity status might tear them apart. (It doesn’t.)
Based on a novel by Paul Gallico, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris operates with a similar joie de vivre, even if, like most movies about aging, it has a melancholic undertow. Ada Harris is a 1950s widow who has received long-awaited confirmation of her husband’s death in World War II. She earns her living as a housekeeper, never asking for much-just a few chuckles with her BFF (Ellen Thomas) and a respite from her intermittent loneliness. Meanwhile, haute couture is sweeping postwar European fashion. When she scores a stack of cash with the help of a roguish horse-racing bookie (Jason Isaacs), Mrs. Harris goes to-where else?-Paris to purchase a dress from the continent’s glitziest designer, Christian Dior. Maybe the splendour will prompt a new chapter. Oh, how her husband would have loved to see her in such fine threads. But Mrs. Harris’ lack of refinement clashes with the atelier’s haughty supervisor, the decadently named Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert), who would rather not sell a Dior original to someone she deems so inferior.
Instead of waging war, Mrs. Harris offers charm and airtight logic: “My money’s as good as anybody’s.” It’s not quite as simple as that, of course. Mme. Colbert’s snobbery isn’t Mrs. Harris’ only obstacle, though she does have an easy time winning over a reluctant starlet (Alba Baptista) and a handsome Dior accountant (Lucas Bravo, a romance pro thanks to a certain Emily who also went to Paris) with a schoolboy crush on said startlet. By the end of the film, our protagonist will have started a minor labour movement, democratized fashion, and mellowed her foes. It’s a fairy tale, contrived and delightful. Exactly the way you want it.
Movies like Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris are blissfully uninterested in most of popular culture’s contemporary concerns. No superheroes, no apocalyptic threats, no dinosaurs or Demogorgons or physics-defying cars, no ripped-from-the-headlines scandal, no murder mystery to solve. These are earthbound sagas. They can feel like magical realism, but there is no literal magic, unless you count Maggie Smith’s zingers. The genre’s American counterparts-think Book Club, Poms, I’ll See You in My Dreams, and Hope Springs-don’t land with the same whimsy, too removed from the fairy-tale trappings that British filmmakers embrace. They could benefit from a spot of tea.
What isn’t without that spot is 2018’s Tea with the Dames, released abroad as Nothing Like a Dame. It’s British-lady comfort food in documentary form. The English theater’s four most revered actresses-Dench, Smith, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright-sit around a table at Plowright’s countryside home, gossiping about their careers and ribbing one another. Quartet would be another apt title for Dames‘ tart slice of nirvana, but it was taken by a different Smith movie that more or less fits the genre, about a retirement home for quick-witted musicians. (Even men sneak in some giggles, namely Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay, who could team up with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel‘s Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson for their own comfort food.) Smith’s Quartet colleague Pauline Collins also headlined The Time of Their Lives, a 2017 road-trip comedy in which her character attempts to renew her faded screen career alongside co-star Joan Collins (no relation).
The only bummer about this genre? There’s not more of it. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, recently released on Hulu, doesn’t totally qualify, but it scratches a similar itch. Trading fancifulness for naturalism, Leo Grande features another dame, Emma Thompson, as a retired schoolteacher who has never achieved orgasm. She hires a hunky, tactful sex worker (Daryl McCormack) to remedy her erotic void. The movie occurs across four meetings in the same hotel room where Thompson’s nervous Nancy steadily grows more comfortable with herself. Thompson captures the role’s nuances in much the way that Dench did in 2013’s fact-based Philomena. Despite the characters’ vast differences, they share strained relationships to their pasts and a curiosity about aspects of the world they haven’t embraced. By the end, they’re more tranquil people.
That sums up an essential hallmark: The old-timers in these movies find reason to embrace life anew. In The Hundred-Foot Journey, Mirren’s Michelin-starred proprietor abandons her airs after falling for her competitor (Om Puri). The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel retirees learn that good scenery is in the eye of the beholder. Despite seeking out a dress worth 500 quid, Mrs. Harris isn’t craving materialism; she just wants something beautiful, a windfall to lift her morale. Her spiritual gains become more valuable than anything Dior could sell her. Like each of these films, the stakes are low and the ecstasy is high.
Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.
What is special about the year of the Rabbit?
As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.
What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?
There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.
New South Wales
Darling Harbour Fireworks When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.
Dragon Boat Races When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.
Lion Dances When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.
Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.
Auntie Philter When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.
Lunar New Year Festival When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.
BriAsia Festival When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.
Chinatown Adelaide Street Party When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.
Crown Perth When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.