Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris' screenwriter reveals his adaptation process
July 15, 2022
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is the kind of escapist fare that is perfect for a summer that feels like a revolving door of bad news. It’s a lovely picture that tells the story of how Mrs. Harris (Lesley Manville) gets obsessed with the idea of purchasing a Dior dress of her very own despite the fact that she’s a widowed cockney maid of very meager means.
It’s highly recommended you put on your best frock, drink a ton of tea, and treat yourself to an afternoon in an air-conditioned movie theater where you can enjoy Mrs. Harris’s adventure. Co-Writer, director, and producer Anothony Fabian first fell in love with Mrs. Harris’ story when he read the short novella by Paul Gallico. “I had a bit of help in adapting the screenplay in that Paul didn’t write too big a book,” mentioned Fabian.
Raising the stakes
Fabian continued that he did have some challenges adapting the book in that Gallico is never too mean to his characters, nor do they get into too much trouble, “in a movie you need jeopardy and stakes, and to feel very deep emotions… there were some elements that we brought to the story that [are] not in the book. I wanted to explore the idea that this dress was a catalyst to open her heart again and open the possibility of love again, and that’s not in the book."
He adds, "In order to do that we had to create love objects for her…the dress- that gets her motor going, her love motor. And when she gets to Paris and meets The Marquis (Lambert Wilson) and he flirts with her [and] she’s starting to respond a little bit to that… We also created this character, not in the book, Archie (Jason Isaacs), who is more appropriate for her… But she never would have never noticed or seen Archie without the journey of her dress.”
Fabian also spoke of giving Ada (Harris) a best friend to flesh out Ada’s world: “There’s also Vi Butterfield (Ellen Thomas) who is not in the book. She’s a Jamaican, and not only does she add more diversity to the film, but it also’s a nod to the windrush of the time, and they really were such a wonderful pair. You really believed in friendship.”
Crash course in Dior
In addition to Mrs. Harris, the world of Dior gets equal screen time and is definitely the strongest co-star. It’s a delight to get an insight into such a lush fashion world that emerged from the ashes of a war that just ended. Fabian stated he’s not much of a fashionista but that didn’t stop him from delighting in the details:
“I really now have like a doctorate in a 10-year period of Dior,” he mused. Additionally Fabian was heavily instrumental in getting Dior involved: “The people at Dior were very open to helping- and opening their doors to their archives. Also, 1957 was the last year Dior was alive, and that’s when the movie happens… it all felt like fate.”
The character of Ada Harris paired with Dior is a classic odd couple duo act. Harris with her Cockney accent and Dior employees who are pained to have to communicate with her in English. Harris who is not too proud to sleep on the train benches with the street drunks, and the Dior girls who drink champagne at movie premieres. Harris with her one coat and the Dior devotees who wouldn’t be caught dead in the same outfit twice.
Crafting a strong female lead
But Fabian has cleverly crafted a Mary Poppins-type magical mystery woman with Ada Harris. He examined what made her so special:
“She’s a totally authentic person whereas all the other characters are wearing a mask. With Ada what you see is what you get, and through her, she unmasks all the people she meets across the story. In that process, they fall in love with her. She transforms her own life in this adventure she goes on and transforms the lives of everyone she meets.”
There’s no denying that Mrs. Harris is a strong female lead. Something rare for the era, and something the world constantly needs more of. Fabian had advice for crafting such a character:
“Women are much more interesting to watch on screen than men, in my opinion. I would encourage anyone to make films with female leads… Ironically there was some pressure to cast this character as younger and prettier, it would have been all wrong. So you also have to stick to your guns.”
That paid off well for Fabian here. There’s no denying the most charming part of the film (besides the feast for the eyes fashion escapism) is the charming titular character. Speaking of a feast for the eyes, the red carpets for the film should be as lushly fashionably glorious as the movie itself as even Fabian finally has some Dior of his own to wear… “I’m getting my own Dior moment,” he said with a grin.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/