Phantom Thread

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vickey Krieps
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson

Review by Michael Walls-Kelly

It’s comforting to think the dead are watching over the living. I don’t find that spooky at all.

When I sat down to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film I had a few expectations. I expected it to be a story about an asshole artist. Even expected some kind of romance, some sadness and, overall, a great movie. I got all that. I was also rewarded with a gorgeous, moving and surprisingly funny film that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the other classics in Anderson’s filmography.

The story revolves around Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a famous and extremely particular fashion designer in 1950’s London. The other mainstay of the Woodcock household is his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), who manages the operation of the business and manages Reynolds when she needs to. Eventually, a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) comes into his orbit and starts a romantic relationship with him.

It would have been so easy for the film to fall into the trap of being another rote story about a “tortured male genius.” Which, don’t get me wrong, it absolutely is about that. Reynolds is charming and talented and a total controlling asshole. But the combined efforts of Day-Lewis, Krieps, Manville, and Anderson — along with a structure and payoff that plays out like a twisted tale of love — manage to elevate everything.

When Alma joins the Woodcock household, she quickly finds out what is and isn’t allowed. Allowed: picturesque walks, complimenting dresses, being a muse. Not allowed: buttering your toast too loud, bringing in unasked for tea, making asparagus wrong. Phantom Thread could have easily fallen apart if it ended up being misery porn about seeing how much abuse Alma would put up with. Alma and Cyril are a pleasant surprise specifically because they aren’t just tools of a tortured genius, or necessary to prop him up when he needs it. Their relationships are all symbiotic.

Some people may be turned off by what they believe the tone of the film will be. Phantom Thread is a period piece revolving around a fashion designer making beautiful dresses. It seems like it would be dry and stuffy. Anderson is an expert though and plays with the tone of the piece throughout. It’s a surprisingly funny film throughout, and near the end, it even veers towards being a dramatic thriller. There are more levels to it than it seems at first, which is true of every aspect of this film.

Phantom Thread

The performances are as nuanced and layered as you’d expect from Day-Lewis and Manville. Reynolds and Cyril have a very lived-in relationship, and when they spar, it’s absolutely electric. It would also be very easy for Day-Lewis to phone it in for his “final” performance. Of course, he doesn’t at all. Vicky Krieps was a revelation to me. Most of the scenes in this film and almost all of the incredibly important scenes are between Day-Lewis and Krieps, and there wasn’t an imbalance at all. Alma’s playful resolve is so natural. She makes a perfect opposite and complement to Reynolds.

Paul Thomas Anderson worked as his own uncredited cinematographer, and Phantom Thread follows in the crisp, lush style of The Master. The standout centrepiece scene to me is a wordless scene between Reynolds and Alma during a New Year’s celebration. The acting, the cinematography, the production design and the score by Jonny Greenwood — last year’s best score — all come together to create the perfect moment. It’s the kind of art that would make Reynolds Woodcock lean back and smile.


Special Features:

  • Camera Tests
  • “For the Hungry Boy”
  • “House of Woodcock Fashion Show”
  • Behind the Scenes Photographs 

Verdict: Buy it and Watch it! As far as I’m concerned, Paul Thomas Anderson has never put out a bad film and Daniel Day-Lewis has never delivered a bad performance. Phantom Thread is no exception. If you have any reservations about it or expect some kind of Merchant-Ivory revival, lay those aside and just check it out. It’s an entertaining film in more ways than I expected. If it truly ends up being Day-Lewis’s final film performance, he absolutely went out on top. Hopefully, we’re lucky enough to see a lot more from Paul Thomas Anderson.

Michael Walls-Kelly

Leave a Reply