Lesley Manville in ‘Mrs. Harris goes to Paris,’ Dior and Kate Bush
At the start of our Zoom call, English actress Lesley Manville expresses palpable relief when I tell her that I haven’t been as excited for a movie as I was for its last screening, Mrs. Harris goes to Paris.
“When you came in, I thought, ‘Oh my god, he’s a kid. They’re not going to like this movie,'” she said. “But I’m so glad you did!” ( I also let her know that there is a subsection of young queers who enjoy this kind of British cinema for its pleasant Sunday morning vibes. “Of course,” she laughs. “And nice dresses.”)
And how could I not love Mrs Harriswhich stars Manville alongside Isabelle Huppert and Emily in Paris idol Lucas Bravo? It is basically the nice spiritual sequel to a modern masterpiece ghost yarnwhich earned Manville an Oscar nomination in 2018 for her role as Cyril Woodcock, the demanding sister of an arrogant fashion designer played by Daniel Day-Lewis.
But Mrs. Harris goes to Parisin theaters this Friday, is over Paddington than Paul Thomas Anderson. Based on a 1958 bestseller, it’s the joyous story of Ada Harris, a housekeeper in 1950s London who decides to buy herself a Dior dress after coming to terms with the death of her late husband. After finding the money for a two-day getaway to Paris, she extends her trip through the kindness of a cute, nerdy Dior accountant (played by Bravo) and a lovable model with a fondness for Sartre (Alba Baptista ).
It’s the kind of movie you fall into, never wanting to come back after it starts. Everyone is alarmingly nice, and if they’re not, then they’re deliciously mean. director performed by Huppert. The stakes are comfortably, how do you say, on the floor, but they are there: despite Ada’s refreshing working-class humor and candor, which charms all the Parisians she meets, Huppert does not want to dilute the Dior brand by honoring her payment in cash. With that mid-century English firmness, Harris inspires the other employees of the legendary fashion house to help her dream come true – elegant fittings, private fashion shows and starry nights on the town abound.
“I’ve always loved clothes, I’m a bit of a wardrobe freak,” Manville says, citing Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush as early fashion icons. These influences, like Mrs Harrisare nearly 180º of the sternness we’ve come to expect from the English actor, who has won an Olivier Award and two BAFTA nominations throughout his 50-year career and is best known for his darker work with director Mike Leigh.
The morning before Mrs HarrisDuring the East Hampton premiere, the calm yet charming Manville flexed her sartorial muscles, walking me through her current wardrobe and how fashion dictates her performances.
How important is the costume when creating a role?
The costume is essential, as well as the hairstyle and the make-up. I look at a script – and I mean pre-pre-pre-production – I try to work my way through it and create this character. In Ms. Harris’ case, it’s not just the big Dior dress. It is above all a question of dressing well in your everyday life. Like most women at that time, she would have been good at sewing and mending, so we asked her to spruce up her own clothes with her own little embellishments and flowery pieces. I got to work with the really awesome costume designer, Jenny Beavan – you know, she didn’t get three Oscars for no reason. She brings so many things that help me say, “Yeah, I get it now. I understand where this character comes from.
Did you learn any fashion tips or new looks while working on the film?
Uh, no, not really. Because I have a great style of my own.
Describe your personal style.
I grew up in Brighton, on the south coast of England, which is a bit bohemian, a bit hippy. So I loved Stevie Nicks, I wore all that floaty stuff, like Kate Bush. As I got older, I probably got more sophisticated and maybe a little more stylish. But not stuffy – I still want it to be a little edgy. Right now I’m in nice, clean loose pants with a nice silk shirt or something over it. I will definitely do a great Christian Dior jacket with a pair of seemingly casual pants. I don’t want to look like “Mrs. Conventional middle class.
There was a time when I was a lot more, rolled up jeans and a smocked top, but that’s when I had a young kid around. That’s the great thing about fashion: there’s so much influence and it’s constantly evolving.
Are you aware of the Kate Bush revival?
Sure! It’s incredible.
Did the “Running Up That Hill” era influence you, or was it the previous “Wuthering Heights” thing?
Yes, it was a little later. Earlier than that it was Stevie Nicks; I wore a lot of floaty things: bangs and hats and all that.
Who was your first fashion icon?
I hate to mention it again, but it really was Stevie Nicks. I used to buy a lot of Laura Ashley clothes – all those floral, floaty looks that have become synonymous with the home counties look. But when she started, it was quite an interesting look. I wore it in the mid-70s, which had a kind of vibe to it.
You were born a year before the original book, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” was published. Did you already have a relationship with fashion at the time?
It was a difficult period, because we were coming out of the Second World War. People think the war has stopped and suddenly everything is back to normal, and that’s not the case. There was food rationing for years after the war. One of the great things we went through during the war was [a] Fabric [shortage]. People were making do with what they had, and doing exactly what Ada was doing, which was looking at a blouse and doing something to the collar to make it look a little different, and a little better. But it was a very, very difficult time for clothes.
What is the oldest piece of clothing you own?
I have a cute cocktail dress that my mom won in a ballroom dancing contest with my dad. I think she won it in the late 50s because the dress is very [of that era]: a beautiful black dress in wool gabardine with a large crossed collar in fantastic velvet. I had it modified but I haven’t worn it for a very long time. It’s probably the oldest thing I have.
Do you have a favorite look of Mrs. Harris goes to Paris?
I like the scene where she is being adjusted for the dress in the Dior workshop. I really like this dress and the little turban on her head to keep her hair out of the way. The final dress is beautiful, of course, but I just loved that one. It was a little more Lesley.
What is your opinion on London versus Paris Fashions?
I think Paris had the advantage in the 1950s, thanks to Dior. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have amazing designers in England either; you know, Hardy Amies. But everyone in fashion was ruled by the Dior look at that time, because Dior changed the shape of a woman, used her body in a different way – tightened at the waist and that loose, very fitted skirt. It was starting to be the kind of look that Twiggy picked up in the ’60s; that slim, slim, slim look. But you can’t look at this New Look without being impressed. I was just in heaven the two or three days we shot the fashion show sequence, looking at these incredible replicas of the pieces created by Dior. I knew a lot about the fashion and the emblematic creations of this period thanks to ghost yarnbut seeing them recreated and seeing how little the Dior archives actually lent us was just wonderful.
Since you mention it: is Cyril Woodcock of ghost yarn helped Ada Harris?
It’s a good question. Well, we know what Cyril looked like – a bit of a snob. Would she have helped her? Let’s say yes. A little reluctantly, but yes.