This is reported to be Daniel Day-Lewis’s last film, so upsetting was preparing for the role and playing it. In his usual way, he learned to sew in order to be more authentic. He received nominations for Best Actor in the three major awards, the Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes and deserved to win a fourth Oscar. However, he lost out to Gary Oldman’s less subtle and more obvious Oscar-bait as Churchill in The Darkest Hour.
Set in the glamour of 1950’s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the centre of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutantes and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love. With his latest film, Paul Thomas Anderson paints an illuminating portrait both of an artist on a creative journey, and the women who keep his world running. Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth movie, and his second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis.
Like all Anderson movies (most recently Inherent Vice, The Master and There Will Be Blood), Phantom Thread is both strange and mesmerizing. But he’s trying something different here: romantic drama, with a touch of thriller and an unexpected dab of dark comedy. Hitchcock references are everywhere: in the names of Woodcock and Alma (the real-life name of Hitchcock’s wife and collaborator), in the Vertigo-like references to the way the dead watch over the living, and the way Hitchcock’s 1940 film Rebecca casts an elegant shadow over the entire film.
But Anderson weaves in his own touches. Acting as his own uncredited cinematographer, he drenches the film in faded but still-rich color (like Technicolor worn soft), buttery walls and gentle firelight. Sound is amplified: we hear the metallic scrape of butter on toast, the tiny click of a hook-and-eye fastener on a dress, the sigh of a pin decisively puncturing satin. The costumes act both as armour (note the ruthless simplicity of Cyril’s exquisitely fitted black dresses) and as art. And the music, from Jonny Greenwood, doesn’t so much amplify the drama as dance and whirl with it, in both unison and counterpoint.
The three principles give a masterclass in acting. Krieps’s Alma, who sometimes seems made from the film’s soft light, is both guileless and knowing. Manville, long a mainstay of Mike Leigh’s movies, lets us see Cyril carefully arranging her expression before opening the atelier door; this is a woman constructed as meticulously as Reynolds’ gowns. Never mind that pin; her gaze could pierce any fabric. And Day-Lewis, turns in a masterpiece of silky irritability. Dressed in tailored suits and perfectly tied ascots, his silver hair forming twin inverted commas over his brow, he creates a man obsessed with perfection. His voice is slow, like pouring cream, and filled with languid frustration; Alma both fascinates and annoys him. In silence, his face tells stories, whether gazing at a woman or a dress.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall