Transfiguring Adoption awarded this movie 4 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]
Runtime: 115 minutes
Studio: Focus Features
From the Cover of Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris:
“In partnership with the House of Dior, MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS tells the story of a widowed cleaning lady in 1950s London who falls madly in love with a couture Dior dress, and decides that she must have one of her own. After she works, starves and gambles to raise the funds to pursue her dream, she embarks on an adventure to Paris which will change not only her own outlook, but the very future of the House of Dior.”
Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:
Focus Features presents us with a delightful film about a house keeper who chases after her dreams after discovering that her husband was killed in World War 2. Mrs. Harris discovers the most beautiful dress she has ever seen while cleaning the bedroom of one of her client’s homes. She learns the immense price tag of the dress and soon begins to put together a plan to get herself one of the eloquent gowns from Paris. Through a series of hard work and extraordinary lucky events, Mrs. Harris is able to gain the finances for her dreams. Even though Mrs. Harris is able to travel to Paris, as the title suggests, she is met with a multitude of challenges to accomplishing her goal of getting a Christian Dior dress.
The film does a fantastic job of getting the viewer to fall in love with the simple and innocent passion of Mrs. Harris as we go through her triumphs and suffer through her pitfalls. The premise of the film, a woman seeking out her dream dress, might seem like a simple, everyday plot but following the life of Mrs. Harris will introduce your family to a gamut of emotions about issues on losing a loved one, social and economic boundaries, and working to accomplish one’s own personal goals.
On a personal note I was impressed with this films ability to have the viewer cheering Mrs. Harris as she does what seems to be impossible. The only disappointment I had with the film was a scene where a French gentleman takes Mrs. Harris out to dinner at a 1940s strip theater. I’ll explain this lower in the review. Otherwise, I felt the film was simply delightful.
** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **
How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?
Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris is a film which was created for the general public to enjoy. It would seem that it would be best suited for children from 13 years old and older. The film is not directly created for foster and adoptive families or even for families coping with traumatic pasts. However, there are themes in the film that will interest families. One strong theme seen in the film is the fact that Mrs. Harris is a housekeeper who is mingling with various socio-economic classes. We are able to see various people from various walks of life interact with each other and treat each other due to money, class, social expectations, etc.
Foster and adoptive children can often feel unequal to their peers and might even feel that all people know about their situation and look down upon them. Children from foster care or adoptive backgrounds may not have had many examples of how to interact with different socio-economic backgrounds. This film could be a good way to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly as far as social interactions.
- Dreams & Goals
Mrs. Harris decides one day that she must have a Christian Dior dress as she finds the designer’s clothing absolutely beautiful. This becomes a passionate goal which she owns and immediately gets to work making a plan to secure the necessary travel arrangements and funds to buy the expensive dress. Viewers will be able to see the extra jobs which Mrs. Harris takes on as well as witness her doing record keeping in her pocket journal as she moves to accomplish her goals.
Families would do well to highlight the fact that while Mrs. Harris did have some lucky fortune to help her with her goals that she did indeed work hard for her dreams. It might be interesting for caregivers to discuss how Mrs. Harris had to make choices at times to either not spend money or not have fun so that she could meet her goals. It is also worth families discussing that while some people might win the lottery and have other good fortune that the extreme luck in this movie allows for a good storyline. It is good for children from traumatic pasts to practice making plans for the future and learn how they might have to put off gratification to accomplish their goals as role models in the past may have been lacking in these areas.
- Respect and Self-Esteem
A theme we see woven throughout the storyline of this film is that of respect and self-esteem. Various people from different backgrounds and social statuses can be seen interacting with Mrs. Harris on her journey to get her dream dress. Viewers are going to see people who take advantage of her time and social status as a cleaning lady as well as some people that bluntly treat her as a person of lesser value due to her perceived social status. On the polar opposite we discover those who look past Mrs. Harris’ profession and look at her character and talents in order to go on to treat her with dignity and respect. Movie viewers are also going to see Mrs. Harris’ reaction to all the attention she is receiving from people. At the beginning of the movie Mrs. Harris is more prone to let people take advantage of her while at the end of the movie she has learned to stand up for herself and build boundaries into her life that demand her to be respected.
Children from traumatic backgrounds have often not been show how to interact in healthy relationships or create healthy boundaries to allow for good self-esteem. Furthermore, some of our children have a tendency to perceive themselves as lesser in status because of their past trauma or situations. Thus, this film can be a significant catalyst for conversation about both how to treat people from various backgrounds as well as how to guards one’s dignity or self-respect. It would be well worth time for families to note how Mrs. Harris is able to guard her dignity throughout the movie in a healthy manner as well as point out how certain people are able to healthy friendships with her when they are able to see the “true,” Mrs. Harris.
- Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover
Claudine Colbert is portrayed as the high level manager of the Dior company. She is often depicted as belittling Mrs. Harris and downplaying her dreams. However, toward the end of the movie we discover that she is the sole bread winner for herself and her husband, who was injured in the war. Viewers should learn that this woman has a lot of responsibility both at work and home. Mrs. Colbert appears to be trying to guard both her own significance as well as uphold the dignity of the company she works for. The movie will end with Mrs. Colbert being a great ally for Mrs. Harris.
Families would do well to discuss this whole concept in the movie of not judging a person on first impressions. Even with our children from traumatic backgrounds there can be times their behaviors or reactions to a situation seem mean-spirited or odd. However, when one familiarizes themself with the history of our child, the behavior makes sense. Thus, our families will find it good to discuss this concept using the film so that our own family members are not judging other people’s behaviors and giving strangers or acquaintances the benefit of the doubt.
- Fiction Vs. Reality
Ada Harris is seen as have a windfall of fortunate events that allow her to financially meet her goal of traveling to Paris. These events allow the audience to cheer on Mrs. Harris and allow us to feel good about her fortune compared to the string of bad luck she previously has in the film.
Children from traumatic backgrounds may have difficulty at times separating fiction from reality. Personally, I can remember a time when a foster child explained to me that they were in foster care because their birth mother was too busy to care for them while she did so many diplomacy missions in Africa. It would be good for families to have at least a short dialogue about how a good story is made for a movie and to discuss that while someone might have a lot of fortunate events hit all at once that it is highly unlikely. It would also be good for families to spend time highlighting Mrs. Harris’ hardworking nature as a way of accomplishing her goals and discuss how this may look more like most people’s reality.
There are several different layers/types of loss in this movie. The leading loss that is portrayed is the fact that Mrs. Harris’ husband was killed in World War II. At the beginning of the film especially we wrestle with this issue as Mrs. Harris hasn’t officially received news of her husbands death even though the war is over. She hold out hope that her husband might be still be alive. Viewers will confront the tragic reality of her husband’s death when she finally opens a government package.
Other losses surrounding the film have to do with the loss of dreams. At one point Mrs. Harris is well on her way to getting the funding needed for her to go to Paris and get her Dior dress only to have everything taken away from her. We also witness her believing that she will get fitted for her dream gown or get a boyfriend, only to see her have to suffer the loss and grief of these.
Children from traumatic pasts have more often than not had to experience severe loss of family, their affects, and/or their entire lifestyle. As children ride the emotional roller coaster of emotions which Mrs. Harris embarks on during loss/grief, they may find themselves subconsciously walking through the memories of their own loss. It is very worthwhile for caregivers to be aware of this so that they can be available for their children or know if they need to avoid the film altogether.
- Taking Advantage of a Person
Throughout the film Mrs. Harris finds herself performing cleaning tasks and various housekeeper duties for various customers in their homes. Most of her clients take her for granted and are disrespectful of her time, talents, and financial situation.
Some children from traumatic pasts may have had hardworking parents who were struggling to make ends meet. Although a child may have a skewed remembrance of their past situation, Mrs. Harris’ situation could possibly remind children of their separation from their parents. It would be good for a caregiver to be aware of their child’s threshold.
- Strip Show
During the movie a French man takes Mrs. Harris out for dinner at a dinner theater. The scene is meant to be humorous as it first appears to be an upscale show featuring women dressed as Bo-Peep and men as wolves. However, the scene soon dissolves into a men removing their shirts and women in scant lingerie complete with tassels hanging from their nipples. Families coping with children who have sexually charged pasts will find this scene harmful. It is a small scene compared to the whole film and isn’t necessary for the furthering of the plot. Thus, you may find that you simply need to skip the scene if you’re watching at home. I would strongly suggest that caregivers watch this film before their children so that they can gauge how this seen my impact their family. It is sad that this scene exists as it is the major reason the film didn’t score better in our review.
- Alcohol Use
At one point in the movie Mrs. Harris arrives at a train station in Paris and converses with a group of homeless gentlemen who are seemingly drunk from passing bottles of alcohol around. They offer some wine to Mrs. Harris who takes on swig from the bottle.
At another point in the movie Mrs. Harris’ friend, Vi Butterfield, asks about getting some alcohol after Mrs. Harris loses all her money betting on dog races.
In this reviewer’s opinion both incidents are minor and not essential at all to the storyline. Most children will not fixate on these issues or even notice that they exist within the film. However, we did want to alert caregivers to their presence in the instant that you have a child with a past impacted by alcoholism who might be particularly sensitive to these situations.
Vi and Mrs. Harris head over to the dog races for a day of fun and to see their friend Archie, who works at the track. Mrs. Harris does bet on one of the races thinking she received a good omen from her deceased husband. There are no unwholesome depictions of life that one could infer might be at a racetrack scene.
We are merely alerting caregivers to this in case you have a child whose past was impacted by gambling and may have a sensitivity to this act.
- When did you feel the happiest for Mrs. Harris? When did you feel the saddest for her?
Caregiver Note: This question isn’t meant to be to horribly deep. It is merely a conversation starter so that you can learn more about what your child is thinking and share a little about your thoughts with them.
- Do you think Mrs. Harris’ dream of owning a Dior dress was silly or neat? What is a goal that you have?
Caregiver Note: This question is not only meant for you to learn more about your child’s interests and dreams but it is meant to start a conversation showing that what might be important and grand for one person might seem silly to another person. Children from traumatic backgrounds typically do not want to be unique or different from their peers. However, it is god for them to know that all people are indeed different and naturally have varying dreams.
- Did Mrs. Harris just sit around and wait for her dream to come true? How did she work toward her dream?
Caregiver Note: Many times children from traumatic backgrounds have not had examples for how to achieve goals. Thus, it can be difficult for them to know how to go about working towards something. This is compounded with the fact that many of our children cannot plan for the future when their future has always been fuzzy and they have to worry simply about surviving in the present. Thus, it would be beneficial for caregivers to use this question to highlight how Mrs. Harris worked side jobs, quit taking the bus to save money, etc. to work toward her goals. It might also be worthwhile to note that when Mrs. Harris had her windfall of good fortune that she saved the money for her dream and didn’t run out and spend it on other things.
- Mrs. Harris’ friend Archie tells her at one point that it’s good that she’s a dreamer. Why do you think it is good to have dreams and goals?
Caregiver Note: This question is good for to discuss how Mrs. Harris’ dream gave her something to look forward to and gave her hope for the future. It would be easy for someone in her position to sulk around and be sad about her situation, especially since she recently discovered that her husband was dead. Our children from traumatic backgrounds could easily fall into sad emotions but they need to know that their goals and dreams for the future can help them move forward and succeed in life.
- Mrs. Harris cleaned homes for Lady Dant and actress, Pamela Penrose. How do you think they treated Mrs. Harris?
Caregiver Note: Both Lady Dant and Pamela Penrose take advantage of Mrs. Harris and simply view her as a housekeeper. In this question we would like you to explore the characteristics of the relationship these ladies had with Mrs. Harris. Our children from traumatic backgrounds sometimes desire friendships so badly that they cannot see that someone might be taking advantage of them. This question should be able to allow you to steer the conversation by using the film to note ways Ada Harris was being taken advantage of.
- How did Mrs. Harris respond to Lady Dant & Pamela Penrose in the beginning of the movie? At the end?
Caregiver Note: This question will be a good follow up to the previous question. Previously, we were asking you to discuss with your family the characteristics or qualities that showed Mrs. Harris was being ill treated. In this question we want your family to discuss your response to the treatment. In the beginning of the movies she appeared to merely accept her ill treatment from her clients while at the end of the movie she set up boundaries. For example when Lady Dant cannot settle up her accounts at the beginning, Mrs. Harris simply continues to show up and clean. However, at the end of the movie Mrs. Harris announces she is ceasing her services and demands settlement by the end of the week.
While your children are more than likely not going to be settling financial accounts, it would be good for your family to talk about how your children might put up boundaries at school to guard their self-respect.
- Why do you think Natasha and Mr. Fauvel treated Mrs. Harris so well?
Caregiver Note: Many people mistreated Ada Harris in this film. However, there were several people that treated her quite nicely and she seemed to create friendships with them. Many times children from traumatic backgrounds have not had examples of how to have healthy relationships. This question will allow your family to have time to take a look at some of the characteristics of a healthy friendship. It would also be a great question to discuss respectful ways for us to engage with new acquaintances. Quite frankly, as the reviewer, I was impressed with how Mr. Fauvel and Natasha could look past the socio-economic differences with Mrs. Harris and see her spirit and character.
- Why do you think Mrs. Colbert, the company manager, seemed like Mrs. Harris’ enemy at the beginning of the movie but like her ally at the end?
Caregiver Note: It can be easy to merely look at the characters in a movie and name some as the “villains” and the others as “allies.” However, Mrs. Colbert allows us to see that we should learn the background story behind the visible behaviors to learn the motivation. Throughout the movie we can see that Mrs. Colbert may have been out of line with Mrs. Harris but later on in the movie we can see that she might be feeling like she is becoming obsolete as she see the times changing. This question can be a great conversation starter to discuss how we need to learn the story behind someone’s behaviors before judging them. It is also a good theme as many times our children from traumatic backgrounds seemed to be judged based on their seemingly irrational behavior because people don’t know their back story.
- Throughout the course of the movie Natasha doesn’t feel like the real “her.” Why do you think she didn’t feel like herself? Do you ever feel like you act a certain way that isn’t the “real” you?
Caregiver Note: This question is addressing the fact that Natasha didn’t seem happy in her modeling career and philosophically in the movie is reading a book which explores the concept of presenting one self even though you’re another person. Children from traumatic backgrounds may act or behave a certain way in order to get other people to accept them or to do what they think will keep themselves safe. It would be good for families to explore this concept in Natasha’s example from the film. Caregivers might find that children don’t want to answer the question about themselves or honestly are not self aware enough to explore it. That’s fine. Spend your time talking about Natasha and possibly sometime in the future your child will be ready to look at the last piece of this question.
- Activity: Family Goal
Caregiver Note: This activity is meant to be something as difficult as easy as you want it to be. The real goal here is for your family to work toward accomplishing something and showing your children how one might go about accomplishing a goal.
- As a family decide on one goal you would all like to accomplish together
(i.e. learn one new word from the dictionary, be able to walk/run a mile, be able to draw a cartoon character, etc.)
- Decide together as a family when you would like the goal to be accomplished
(i.e. know 5 new words in 5 days, run a mile in 4 weeks, be able to draw the cartoon character well in 3 weeks)
- As a family figure out the steps you’ll need to take to accomplish this goal and write them down and put the steps in a place where everyone can see them throughout the week
(i.e. find step by step directions on the internet to draw the cartoon character; every night after dinner the family practices drawing the characters using the steps; every night as a family talk about how the drawings look good but also talk about how they could improve; on the last night have a family art show or put the drawings on your social media for everyone to see)
- As a family decide on one goal you would all like to accomplish together
About the Author: Darren Fink
Co-founder and President of Transfiguring Adoption. Darren is a graduate of Illinois State University where he studied fine art. He offers foster and adoptive parents over a decade of experience in parenting foster and adoptive children, as well as his introductory to counseling training. Darren is the author of the [“A Guide to Magical Creatures Around Your Home,”] book series.
**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.