DIR: Paul Thomas Anderson • WRI: Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan  PRO: Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar  DOP: Paul Thomas Anderson • ED: Dylan Tichenor • MUS: Jonny Greenwood • DES: Mark Tildesley • CAST: Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville

There’s an otherworldly air to the storytelling. Prophetic writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has forged a gothic romance out of a haunting embrace between two souls; and which by means of either alchemy or witchcraft, has been engraved in celluloid for all eternity. We’re invited into the world of esteemed middle-aged couturier Reynolds Woodcock, during the post-war period of 1950’s London.

Reynolds’ (Daniel Day-Lewis) forces the comb back through his silver and peppery strands of hair. His stone face basks in the morning light. He adjusts his glasses on the rim of his nose before pulling his socks up over his shins. Fully dressed and standing authoritatively at the top of the stairs, Reynolds overlooks the middle-aged women in white coats, as they climb up winding flights to set to work with needle and thread. And Reynolds passionately leads the charge when he isn’t governing employees, or giving orders. The daily inner workings of the illustrious ‘House of Woodcock’ are precision based; it’s a mysterious clockwork operation designing regal garments for the nobility and wealthy patrons of the upper classes. Reynolds treats the work with an unyielding religiousness and zealousness.  And while his efforts have been bountiful in the arena of career, they’ve been less so in the arena of the heart. His romances are never more than fleeting carefully orchestrated affairs. They’re managed by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who’s militant in her casual formal dismal of Reynolds lovers. She brazenly warns him when it’s time to get rid of any romance that strains his concentration. Cyril is Reynolds allegiant comrade, and why wouldn’t she be? As Reynolds says “Cyril is always right.”

The success of Reynolds artistry is founded on a ruthless commitment to the habits and behaviors he’s established over the course of a lifetime, which shield him from change in his iron-clad enclave in London. His ‘House’ of Woodcock is in its own way a fortress, walling enemies out, and trapping those he depends on inside. It’s a world built upon layer upon layer of etiquette and routine, but beneath Reynolds’ silken visage and venomous bite, there’s an aching loneliness and isolation at his core. However while on a spontaneous break to the countryside, Reynolds meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) and as they’re thrust together she reignites the cold embers of his deadened heart, at least until he begins to tire of her.

Daniel Day- Lewis’ incarnation of Reynolds Woodcock is utterly magnetic, the subtlety and restraint of his performance imbue his character with a dynamic sense a power and weakness. Vicky Krieps is a rarefied gem giving Alma a heavenly compassion and an emboldened wildness. And Lesley Manville’s performance is charged with a riveting electricity and wit, for which she’s been more than deservedly nominated for an academy award.

Anderson offers us a glimpse at the mystique behind the fabric of Reynolds and Alma’s lives, and it is breathtakingly hypnotic. Phantom Thread is a cinematic tapestry, richly textured and hand-woven. On this occasion, Anderson had more direct involvement with the cinematography, and who with the assistance of his trusted gaffer and camera assistants established the distinctive look of the film. The rustic grain and nuanced color palate help immortalize the haunting English landscapes in winter light. There’s nothing humdrum, or run of the mill about it, every single shot is a ravishing sensory feast, and a lush measure of masterful composition.

This is elevated by the exuberant production design. There’s a rich intimacy created by everything from the furnishings and textures, to the molten embers that compliment sedate fireside seductions. And then, of course, there’s the lively colour and pomp of the Chelsea New Year’s Ball. But it would be impossible to write this review without mentioning the glorious Mark Bridges, whose costumes are so integral to the identity of the film; if he doesn’t score an Oscar for this, it’s nothing short of a gross injustice.

All in all, Anderson’s arresting vision is amplified by a haunting romantic score from Mr. Johnny Greenwood. And Johnny Greenwood serves a twofold score that brings a hallucinogenic potency to lush romantic strings. There’s an inseparable union created between the score and the drama, more so perhaps than in any other Anderson film, indeed over 70 percent of the film has score.

And when it comes to the heritage of Phantom Thread, Anderson proudly wears his references on his sleeve. He openly acknowledges that this film, in particular, stems from a rich lineage of gothic romances; such as Gaslight, Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and the David Lean films Brief Encounter, and The Passionate Friends.

The film is perhaps marked by another powerful influence; the work of Max Ophuls, whose distinctive romantic tragedies are infamous for their dynamic movement and their portrayal of women. At the heart of Ophuls’ work is the thematic question of the cost of the illusion, which certainly comes into play here too. Phantom Thread is a film that ultimately looks at the cost of maintaining our dreams and our passions, and how our happiness is possibly built on the necessity of illusions. Phantom Thread is a spiritually woven drama, marked by the gentle violence of tactile performances, and the distinctive vision of a master craftsman; it’s spellbindingly sublime cinema. It’s tantamount to cinematic transubstantiation and Anderson and Day-Lewis deliver, turning blood to bread and water to wine, leaving us all but paralyzed.

Michael Lee

15A (See IFCO for details)

130 minutes
Phantom Thread is released 2nd February 2018

Phantom Thread – Official Website




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