In Phantom Thread director Paul Thomas Anderson, known for Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, reunites with favoured star Daniel Day Lewis to delve into the world of the couture, alongside fictional designer to royalty and celebrity, Reynolds Woodcock.
The plot, as much as there is one in this vignette theatrical piece, follows Woodcock and his relationship with Alma, Vicky Krieps, a waitress he finds while on retreat from the pressures of the high fashion world of London. It is a bizarre tale that follows a unique path. Heading into a film about a tortured designer in the 1950s fashion world, I came in with preconceptions and prejudices of what I expected to see. Anderson evades all these potholes, to craft a bizarre lasting piece, which follows its own currents.
However, to talk purely in terms of plot with Phantom Thread is to do it somewhat of a disservice. As opposed to crafting a grand narrative, Paul Thomas Anderson examines the life of Woodcock, his idiosyncrasies and infuriating adherence to his sacred routine. And frankly, Reynolds Woodcock, is a pain in the arse. He’s obnoxious, self-centred, with an ego the size of a textile factory. Its hard to like him, but despite this he makes for a fascinating subject to examine. He is complex, in his relations with Alma, with the presence of his mother who taught him his craft, and with his reliance upon his sister Lesley Manville as Cyril. There are niches and little crevices within the film, which while not entirely plot based, add a texture and depth to the universe created by Anderson. The film isn’t really saying too much in terms of universal truths, but at the same time delivers a unique insight into love, ego, dedication, and the tortured life of the artist.
I have read that this is a love story, and it is that dynamic that elevates the film. Certainly, Woodcock and Alma’s relationship evolves in an inimitable and intriguing manner. Yet to me it is Reynolds, and Day-Lewis’ colossal performance, that is the centre of everything that is brilliant about this film. He is the central column of Phantom Thread and if this is truly Lewis’ final appearance upon the silver screen, it is quite a remarkable farewell. Every single movement seems perfectly calculated. Every gesture, poignant. It is perhaps the intensity, and the versatility of his face that carries everything the film attempts to say and show. Alongside this performance, his co-stars Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps deliver stunning performances of their own which are equal to the challenge of performing alongside Day-Lewis’ herculean force.
The film is crafted with a love, and a beauty by Anderson akin to a dressmaker sewing an intricate wedding gown. There is a sumptuous warmth to the lighting, and tone of the film. This is rich cinematic faire, filled with heavy poignant silences which carry much of the ambiguity and unspoken intrigue of the film, which threatens to be to overwhelm, and would if not for a delicacy of touch, a powerful use of cut shot here, and perfect frame there. Many frames return to the mind with crystal clear clarity, so truly remarkably well shot is the piece. Aside from visually, the use of sound to illuminate the whirring mechanisms of Woodcock’s unique mind and its frustrations, is a masterstroke of film making.
The film, in all its rich glory, could’ve been undone with a subpar script, and fallen into a soppy swamp of cliché. The beautiful scenes are sustained and kept alive with a brilliant sparky script that takes the film to a higher level. The dialogue between Woodcock and Cyril provides a quirky humour, and a particular dinner scene involving asparagus is one of the best exchanges I have seen in a while.
I was left thinking about Phantom Thread for a long time after the end credits rolled. It was challenging, bizarre, unique, idiosyncratic, and entertaining in its own way. Find it if possible, as release has been limited. Within my family it divided opinion, but a consensus was found that it was unlike any film we had seen before and did not fall into our preconceived notions of what the film would be. It is tipped for several Oscars, and I feel it should win as it is very much the type of film the Academy rewards, and besides this I feel it deserves all the accolades it receives.