Phantom Thread will go down in movielore as Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film — he announced his retirement when he was shooting for it. Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is about the eccentric and utterly self-absorbed designer Reynolds Woodcock, in 1950s London. The film opens with his precise and fussy getting ready for the day ritual — everything just so. He makes beautiful and stylish dresses for the aristocracy and has the minutae of his life looked after by his intimidating sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), whom he called “old so and so.” Women, apparently come and go — it is Cyril’s job to get rid of them when they get too demanding or intrusive.
On a visit to the country, he meets a pretty waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps) and she becomes his next lover and muse. She enters the whirlwind life of modelling and fittings, and seems to fit in without a hint of nervousness or anxiety. She is tall, gauche and clear-skinned (when he takes her to dinner, he wipes off her lipstick), but with a shrewdness in her eyes that indicate that she will not become one of Woodcock’s passing fancies. This is indicated in an early staring-contest scene, at which Alma boasts that she never loses.
Amidst the hurly-burly of their days, when they are left alone at the end of the day, a strange ménage à trois plays out between the Woodcocks and the outsider. Alma accepts the subservient position in the household, but quietly struggles against their control and deviously makes sure she wins the tug-of-war with Cyril.
Daniel Day-Lewis reportedly spent months learning to sew, and brings to his part the fastidious perfection he is known for. His handsome, leonine looks serve him well to play the character who takes his work very seriously, and has ‘genius’ stamped on his brow in invisible ink. Krieps and Manville offer excellent support without attempting to steal any scenes from the actor — the film does belong to him, after all.
The production design, costumes, music all collaborate to make an impeccable period film; in spite of plenty of plotting and intrigue, Anderson does not ever let the film tip into melodrama. It has earned its six Oscar nominations, pity Krieps didn’t make it to the list.
Rating: Three and a half