“Much will rightly be made of Daniel Day Lewis’s stupendous performance, which only serves to emphasise just what a massive loss he will be to the big screen.” – Wayward Wolf.
If this is indeed to be Daniel Day Lewis’s final foray into the world of cinema, then Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is a fittingly fine piece in which to take his final bow.
Right from the off we are made aware that Reynolds Woodcock, a highly successful renowned maker of elegant, timeless dresses, is a rather fastidious man. A confirmed bachelor by his own admission he is instead married to his work, something that he lives and breathes in every waking moment of every day.
A brief but much needed escape to the coast introduces Reynolds to Alma (a nicely understated performance from Vicky Krieps), a young waitress in a local tea room. Reynolds, clearly smitten and keen to waste neither time nor opportunity, seizes the chance to not only invite Alma to dinner, but to have her model one of his dress designs. And Reynolds’ softly-spoken effusions are ultimately more than enough to convince the impressionable young lady to come and live with him in his elegant London abode.
And so begins Alma’s initiation into the some what self-centred, tunnel-visioned world of Reynolds Woodcock. But far from being yet another lackey destined only to dance to the beat of her master’s drum, Alma will come to be his muse, his lover and most interestingly of all, his greatest challenge.
Whilst on paper Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is a slightly unsettling period piece infused with darkly comedic overtones, the overpowering impression is of a film that is both masterfully crafted and sublimely beautiful in every respect.
Much will rightly be made of Daniel Day Lewis’s stupendous performance, which only serves to emphasise just what a massive loss he will be to the big screen. Lewis’ nuanced portrayal of this critically demanding and fussbudgety – yes, that’s fussbudgety – character is intense to say the least, as are the relationships and interactions that he ‘builds’ with those around him.
Reynolds’ relationship with his omnipresent sour-faced assistant, Cyril (a superb performance by the wonderful Lesley Manville), is particularly revealing and built solidly around routine and dependability. For a man so independent of thought and action, Reynolds is surprisingly indecisive without Cyril’s much valued input and calm assurance on all matters, even having a tendency to slip into temporary states of insecurity and self-doubt in her absence.
Cyril on the other hand tolerates her employer and his rather trying idiosyncrasies, but no more than that, and Reynolds knows not to cross her. Years of service to this at times unreasonable dressmaker make her best placed to understand his numerous whims and demands; and she is all too sure to pass on the pearls of wisdom that she’s unearthed along the way with sage words of advice to an initially confused Alma, with whom she shares something of a strained relationship.
“There’s altogether too much movement for breakfast time,” opines a disgruntled Reynolds – or words to that affect – in reaction to Alma’s involuntary slurps, chomps and general noise making at the breakfast table, leading her partner to suffer yet another episode of chronic noise over-sensitivity, bordering on Hyperacusis.
But such an obvious achilles heel will be something that Alma comes to use to her advantage in response to Reynolds’ sometimes callous and hurtful remarks, and will lead the couple into a dysfunctional phase of their relationship based around an unhealthy cocktail of power, envy, control and sado-masochism.
It’s a constantly fascinating encounter.
Adorning Paul Thomas Anderson’s stunning work is Johnny Greenwood’s luscious and no less impressive score, the main theme from which being a recurring, highly memorable melodic contrary motion piece which creates a spell-binding mood of romanticism, refinement, and splendour. The perfect accompaniment.
Sadly, it’s also the type of score that is all too rare in modern film making.
Phantom Thread has been positively inundated with Oscar nominations in as many as six different categories. I’m certainly not going to argue with that sentiment.
Don’t be surprised to see this hugely impressive film amongst the eventual winners. It’s that good.