Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Leslie Manville
Reynold Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) creates dresses for the rich and well born London set of the 1950s. His fastidious mannerisms make him an excellent designer, but cripple his home and social life. To some extent these shortcomings are made up for by his hard nosed sister, Cyril (Leslie Manville), who manages his “house” (both home and business), but that is thrown into confusion when Reynold invites his new muse (Vicky Krieps) back to the studio, and into his life.
There is an immaculate sense of place conveyed by this character study. Not merely in the detailed recreation of a 1950s fashion house, but in the nuances and foibles of the people populating it. Phantom Thread builds its atmosphere slowly and deliberately, allowing us insights into the characters grudgingly, as it peels back the layers of proper form and routine, to show us what lies beneath.
However it’s certainly a slow reveal to get to that epiphany. Audiences need to settle into the idyllic pace of the film, helped by an almost overwhelming cinematic score (care of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood) loaded with appropriately halcyon classical music, beautiful cinematic eye, and three on-point performances that create the power dynamic of the house. The fascinating play of characters formed by the Krieps, Day-Lewis and Manville, and the power struggle that takes place in this triangle is what forms Phantom Thread.
Yet, no mater how immaculately constructed this film is, nor the undeniable quality of the cinematography or the acting, the characters are so eccentric and reserved as to almost be alienating. It is both a strength and weakness for this film. On one hand, they are engrossing (and often humorously quirky) due to their strangeness, on the other that reserved “otherness” keeps audiences at a distance. This is a film of subtleties and slights, one reliant on nuances of dialogue and performance to work, and is as detailed and as delicate as fine lace.
Day-Lewis is extraordinary as Woodcock. He keeps the performance poised between properness, artistic temperament, and childish tantrum. He’s infantised by his strict rules, and exacting attitude – qualities that make him perfect for his profession, but hellish in domestic life. Krieps’ out of place ingenue quickly shifts to demonstrate her quiet determination, as playful banter turns to willful resolve. The revelation here is certainly Manville (Another Year, Malificent), who takes a support role and makes it memorable, with her reserved matter of fact style that is cruelly cutting, and surgically precise. Little surprise that Day-Lewis and Manville are two of the six award nominations that this picture garnered from the Academy Awards.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson, who previously made There Will Be Blood with Day-Lewis, creates a world that is oddly dialectic. Intriguing yet isolating, beautiful yet festering, Phantom Thread is a finely stitched piece that will divide audiences, but award ardent viewers.