Movie Review: ‘Phantom Thread’


Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps

Plot: Reynolds Woodcock is a highly respected and sought after dressmaker in 1950s London, where he provides outfits for royalty and the elite. Whilst visiting the countryside he meets Alma, a waitress, and she quickly becomes his muse. Their relationship, however, quickly becomes hostile.

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Review: It’s hard to sum up this movie as it’s about a trio of very complex characters in an unconventional relationship. We are first introduced to Woodcock (Day-Lewis), a very controlling and uncompromising artist whose skills and status in society allows him to surround himself with people who will meet his wants. Foremost among them is his sister Cyril (Manville), who is just as scathing as Reynolds while keeping him free from annoyances and managing his business.

When Reynolds meets Alma (Krieps) the two share an immediate connection and fascination with each other. They begin a relationship and Alma moves into Woodcock’s house, working with the business and acting as his muse and lover. It isn’t long before she finds Reynolds’ controlling nature frustrating, but she holds her ground and even begins to antagonise him. When she fails to make him find compromise or acceptance, Alma begins to act more vindictively.

And here we have the potential meaning of the title. This is a movie about relationships, particularly one where the couple involved remain drawn to each other in spite of the hostilities this creates. The ‘phantom thread’ could be the elusive bond that exists between Alma and Reynolds even while they are verbally, physically and emotionally abusing each other.

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The film Phantom Thread puts us most in mind of is Steven Shainberg’s Secretary, another film in which a relationship is driven through antagonism, albiet without a sexual element in the film. Phantom Thread is likely to generate a great deal of discussion about healthy and unhealthy relationships, vulnerabilities, compromise and even emotional consent. You’re not going to like the characters, as they both act in repulsive ways at different times, but their story is fascinating.

Daniel Day-Lewis is, as expected, a remarkable performer and his co-stars are certainly up to the challenge of filling out the other lead roles. Anderson is patient enough to let some key emotional scenes play out with a locked down or slowly moving camera, allowing the actors to complete their scenes in single takes. The film is slowly paced, but not slow nor dull. Anderson is very much a film-maker’s director. His composition is meticulously crafted with subtle tinges of colour light being added to the cream coloured sets to reflect the character’s internal emotion. With his more recent works Anderson puts the viewer in mind of Kubrick, less in his style and more in his precision in planning and mise-en-scene. It’s nice seeing a director who genuinely knows how to use the foreground space.

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The dresses are nice. I feel this should be mentioned even though I am the furthest away from an expert on the subject. This’ll be one to beat for costume design come awards time, because even I could appreciate how damn good the outfits looked.

Phantom Thread is not going to be a mainstream success. But it’s brilliantly made, wonderfully acted and will challenge your idea of how a ‘romance’ story should work. This is not a healthy relationship…but whether or not it works is a matter for debate.

Rating: NINE out of TEN

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