Paul Thomas Anderson (director)
01 February 2020 (released)
01 February 2018
A decade after their celebrated first collaboration on There Will Be Blood, director Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis have teamed up again for a new period piece, Phantom Thread.
Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a feted couture dressmaker whose designs are worn by the cream of 1950s London society.
Effete, obsessive and highly strung, Reynolds is something of a savant, living a highly structured life centred around his work.
His desire for order governs everything from his bow-ties, to his breakfast (nothing stodgy!), to his muses, a string of women who partake in his strictly managed routine before inevitably outstaying their welcome and being cast aside by Reynolds' equally fastidious sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). So consuming is his neurotic tension, that one disruption or setback can send him into a melancholic daze.
At first Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress he meets while recuperating from a depressive episode with a visit to the coast, appears to fit the same pattern - infatuation, followed by familiarity, and the likelihood of eventual contempt. However, she displays a knack for managing his moods, and unusually finds herself able to push back against the restrictive nature of Reynolds' life and society living.
In spite, or because of their deeper connection, Reynolds grows more controlling and attempting to push her away, leading her to take drastic action to remain a part of his affections.
It will come as no surprise to audiences that as a three time Oscar winner (and nominee for his role in this movie) Day-Lewis is typically studied and compelling as the uptight dressmaker, or that Anderson's film looks beautiful and is artfully crafted around his star's central performance. The part is totally different to his Oscar winning turn as oil baron Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, but he is equally mesmerising and lets rip the flashes of humour he has always delivered despite his reputation as Hollywood's most serious method actor. Krieps is fantastically enigmatic as Alma, so you’re never quite sure who is playing who in her and Reynolds' controlling relationship, while Manville steals scenes from her illustrious co-star purely by delivering a stern stare and clipped command.
What does astound though is just how funny and moving Phantom Thread is. Despite the arthouse credentials of its director and cast and its strange subject matter, the film is not po-faced Oscar bait, but instead a wickedly dark comedy of manners that unsettles even as it delights. One scene in particular, where Reynolds and Alma attempt to remove one of his dresses from a drunken client they do not deem worthy of his work, is utterly hilarious. In the final act, the comedienne Julia Davis hijacks several scenes with a rip-roaring cameo, and in truth the movie more closely resembles her deliciously bleak TV comedy series Nighty Night in its sensibilities than the serious fare critics are usually encouraged to fawn over at this time of year.
Although Anderson has embraced black comedy, in Phantom Thread he has not compromised the attention to his craft that has won him so many devotees. Each shot is perfectly composed, so that the whole film has a fantastical dreamlike feel perfectly in keeping with its plot, and Radiohead musician Jonny Greenwood's score perfectly accompanies scenes that often feel like they are as lovingly and elaborately stitched together as one of Reynolds' dresses.
Despite winning acclaim from critics, Anderson's movies have often been an acquired taste due to their eccentric subject matter and his complex, uncompromising and unique filmmaking style, but with Phantom Thread, he has created a touching but darkly comic masterpiece that deserves an audience far beyond those who are already devotees of his work.