In his final performance, Daniel Day-Lewis is Reynold Woodcock, dressmaker to the elite in 1950s London, drenched in the excessive wealth of the upper classes. Reynold is the visionary behind The House of Woodcock, run hand in hand with his sister Cyril. Reynold moves from woman to woman, muse to muse. When he grows tiresome, his sister asks them to leave, often gifting them an exquisite gown to soften the blow. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest centres around Reynold’s new infatuation, Alma – a French waitress who quickly becomes his lover. When Reynold’s usual boredom starts to set in, Alma challenges his behaviour, desperate to not become another ghost in his very particular and regimented life. Phantom Thread is another striking addition to Paul Thomas Anderson’s already rather remarkable portfolio. It shares the same majesty of The Master and the violence psychology of There Will Be Blood, the director and lead actor’s first collaboration. This is operatic storytelling, as rich in textures and aesthetic wonder as Woodcock’s dresses. It’s a visceral experience, a bold tapestry of mind-games and infatuation. Jonny Greenwood’s original score walks hand in hand with Day-Lewis, his astonishing compositions sewn into the very material of the film. The Radiohead guitarist accompanies the director’s work here for the fourth time, and it’s their best collaboration yet. Greenwood’s score captures the violent darkness of Woodcock’s self-described “sour heart”, and elevates the toxicity of the relationships, and an ever-increasing sense of dread. Woodcock himself seems to live somewhere between the living and the dead, still carrying an intense and mournful infatuation with his mother, who taught him his craft. His lifestyle is decadent, but his only real connections seem to be temporarily with Alma and permanently with his work. Ghosts are present in the Woodcock house, both living and dead.
Having let the dust settle – it’s apparent that this film isn’t about Reynolds at all, but about the women that surround and consume him. His unmarried sister Cyril and her devotion to their brand and business is captured in yet another defiant turn from Lesley Manville. Their relationship is a loyal and complex one, brimming with unspoken malice but a striking sincerity. Alma is a turbulent presence in the working life of the siblings’ designer empire. The story is loosely, and partly, told in retrospect by Alma, in what is a vulnerable and endearing performance from Vicky Krieps. Paul Thomas Anderson’s back-catalogue is perhaps the most consistent for a director of his scale and popularity. Most directors would crumble under the pressure of attempting to follow up such previous cinematic accomplishments, but Phantom Thread is a defiant, determined film in its own right; a regal balance of both narrative and artistry. The dresses themselves are breathtaking in this, a tribute to an intrinsic art form. Regularly in the background are numerous seamstresses, working tirelessly to maintain the reputation of the designs they make. Phantom Thread is almost aggressively stylish. Like so much of what’s gone before it, it is violently cinematic. It’s the perfect final curtain for Daniel Day-Lewis, a monumental actor bowing out in a film that matches his own devotion to the art form. We will miss him dearly.
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