15 February 2018
The Phantom Thread
A film by Paul Thomas Anderson
Reviewed by Adam McCormack
Star rating: ****
This is a beautiful film. Visually stunning, with haunting music and impressive performances, Paul Thomas Anderson has produced a treat for the senses. For those looking for action it may not be for you as, for over 2 hours, very little happens. However, for most, the time will disappear in a moment, as this is a totally enthralling film.
Daniel Day-Lewis, in supposedly his last ever role, plays a heterosexual but Hartnell-esque dress designer to the rich, famous and titled. The 1950’s smart set flock to Reynolds Woodcock’s (Day-Lewis) central London townhouse-come-showroom, hoping to have their image transformed by his creations. His creative process involves taking models as muses and lovers, using them as a clothes horse and then, when he tires of them, he allows his business partner sister to ask them to go. Woodcock is a workaholic aesthete, irritated by the slightest of noises during his constant sketching, and he readily finds fault with each new incumbent. Retreating to his country house in search of his next muse, he finds what seems to be the perfect candidate in a European waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps). Initially the process plays out in the usual way, but Alma is wilful, becomes involved in the creative process and, when she realises that her position is in danger, takes steps to protect it.
As ever, at this juncture I will desist from plot spoilers, but suffice it to say that there is a touch of Daphne Du Maurier behind the narrative that for me had elements of My Cousin Rachel and Rebecca. While the pacing may be similar to something by Henry James, despite the action being moderate there is a reasonable degree of suspense. Not surprisingly, the reason why this works so well is the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis. The character he creates may not seem entirely real, but his behaviour compels us to pay attention. Further, his ability to do this is a testament to the performances of Krieps and of Leslie Manville as Woodcock’s sister, Cyril. Alma’s motivations develop entirely in keeping with the pace of the film and while Manville’s performance may take some inspiration from Mrs. Danvers, she is entirely credible as a dutiful sister.
I suspect that this film may not win many, or any, awards, but it does serve to remind us that we are losing a great acting talent while reassuring us that the pool of writer/directors is enhanced by Anderson’s work.