A Touch of Elegance.
Phantom Thread is supposedly Daniel Day-Lewis’s final career performance, and if it truly is the prolific actor’s swan song then be assured that Day-Lewis bows out in exceptional style as the fastidious and stylish fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock.
Phantom Thread marks the second collaboration between Day-Lewis and America auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, after Day-Lewis’s Oscar-winning turn as oil mogul, Daniel Plainview in There Will be Blood (2007). Although I personally favor their work in the latter, Phantom Thread is such a rich and exquisitely made film that it could effortlessly slip through your fingers like a luxurious fabric. An intoxicating, tense and surprisingly comedic endeavor into the perils of dating a control freak (artist).
A gothic romance, set against the glamour of 1950s post-war London, Phantom Thread is a story concerning bespoken fashion designer, and the flamboyantly named, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis). Woodcock, alongside his “old so, and so” and sister Cyril (Manville), produces lavish haute couture for royalty, celebrities, socialites, and debutantes. On a short sabbatical to southern England, because his work is so intensive it frequently makes him ill, he falls in love with a young Belgian waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps), whom he enters into a dark and perverse romance with. Alma isn’t of high society. She merely earns a modest living.
Phantom Thread is spellbinding. At its core is a perpetual tussle for control in a relationship fraught with fragility. Woodcock psychologically abuses Alma but she is defiant and refuses to submit to his control and ego – which casts a very long shadow over the House of Woodcock. Alma’s compassion is her strength and her weakness. Her commitment to their dark romance is ultimately what causes a disruption in Woodcock’s meticulously structured life. Both characters are hopelessly in love with one another yet their romance is so twisted and perverse that it reveals the darker desires within them both. Their tumultuous dynamic is what makes Phantom Thread a compelling watch.
Day-Lewis is as committed to the role as you’d come to expect from the notoriously method actor. I heard he actually learnt how to cut, drape and sew for this one. He gives an transformative performance worthy of his Academy Award nomination. However, it is Krieps that steals the show here from under Day-Lewis. She is raw and unflinching. She’s never once intimidated by Day- Lewis. In fact she pushes him to up his game. It is an absolute crime that she hasn’t been nominated for Best Supporting Actress!
Much like Woodcock’s extravagant masterpieces, Phantom Thread is a work of art. It’s cinematography is as immaculate and as soft as silk. The colour palette is punctuated with sumptuous sepia and deep tones. Each frame could be a painting by one of the many artists from the romantic era. It’s a visual feast. Jonny (lead guitarist from Radiohead) Greenwood’s Oscar nominated score is timeless and romantic but also employs shrieking, nerve-inducing chords that captures the dark obsession that befalls both Woodcock and Alma. It’s a soundtrack that I would especially love to hear crackle on vinyl.
Mark Bridge’s Oscar nominated costume design makes up the fabric of the film. Taking notable influences from Chanel and Dior’s new look, Bridges creates a tapestry of gorgeously colourful garments that will require you to push your eyeballs back into your skull. Bridges and Day-Lewis collaborated very closely on Woodcock’s wardrobe. Day-Lewis would even select his own clothing. One notable example is a scene in which Woodcock attends a surprise dinner wearing a set of lavender pyjamas accompanied by a tweet jacket and a cravat – absurd, but completely in keeping with Woodcock’s larger than life persona.
As the film winds down into its third act I was overcome with a bittersweet feeling. I’m not great with goodbyes, and I kept wondering which frame would be Day-Lewis’s last. Suffice to say it’s as modest and as casual as Day-Lewis himself. A fitting end to an illustrious career. Thank you, Sir.
I feel that I have been a little unkind by excluding Lesley Manville’s Oscar nominated turn as Woodcock’s long-suffering sister Cyril. Manville’s performance is the epitome of the British ‘stiff upper lip’.
The title Phantom Thread actually refers to the enigmatic objects and messages that Woodcock sews into the lining of his garments. It’s a signature of the designer.
This film has a lot of food in it (and some rudely interrupted breakfasts). Let’s give a round of applause to the food artists on this film for making us feel starving hungry when we left the theatre. My friend also pointed out how the quality of Woodcock’s meals determines the quality of his work. Interesting.