Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenwriter: Paul Thomas Anderson
Runtime: 130 mins.
Australian Release Date: 1 February 2018
Previewed at: Dendy Opera Quays, Sydney, on 31 January 2018.
Nominated for six Oscars, Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth feature, Phantom Thread, should really be up for one more, Best Actress for Vicky Krieps, who’s onscreen for most of the film. It’s a glaring omission because Krieps delivers a mesmerizing performance that adds much fuel to this slow-burning drama, leading to a highly inflammable conclusion. Variety described it as “seductive and absorbing” and Vogue claimed it was “one of the best pictures of the year,” so it comes with the stamp of approval from both the film and fashion worlds.
Set in post-war London in the 1950s, an age where glamorous fashion was high on the list of those who could afford it, we enter the world of dressmaker/designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a spoilt man-child who perpetually carries a lock of his deceased mother’s hair close to his heart. Woodcock’s studio is set up in a grand London pile and its smooth operation is managed by his unmarried, devoted sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who protects Reynolds as if he is her personal property. There he rules over a work-place that runs like clockwork, an evenly-paced factory of mainly elderly, female seamstresses who work tirelessly under the couturier’s vision and revere him like a God; as do his clients, who include princesses and countesses, socialites and film stars. He regards the house’s atmosphere of quiet and calm as crucial to the flow of his creative juices. After a successful London showing, however, a chance encounter with a waitress in a country café changes Woodcock’s life completely: he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a beautiful, strong-willed woman who quickly becomes his muse and lover and moves into the bedroom adjacent to his. Before long, though, as has been the pattern with all of Woodcock’s former lovers, Alma feels as if she is sitting on the sidelines of his life, at the mercy of his obsessive creativity and his domineering sister. What’s a girl to do? Alma’s way of ensuring her relationship with her driven mummy’s boy leads to an original and surprising climax. The writer/director has said previously, “I really subscribe to that old adage that you should never let the audience get ahead of you for a second. So if the film's abrasive and wrongfoots people then, y'know, that's great.”
Daniel Day-Lewis has announced that Phantom Thread will be his final film and it is certainly a high to go out on (he’s magnificent) but all the cast is impeccable; Krieps is luminescent as the mysterious Alma, about whom we know almost nothing (because her self-absorbed mate never bothers to ask), and Manville is just as mesmeric in her role as the highly protective sister involved in a love/hate relationship with her brother (he calls her “my old so-and-so”). They are ably supported by the ladies who quietly work in the background, especially Sue Clark as Biddy. They are as impressive as the frocks they deliver. Paul Thomas Anderson not only directed and wrote the screenplay but is also the cinematographer. He claims that, because his usual choices for DOP were not available, he took it upon himself to shoot the movie but relied on the assistance of a number of others. He therefore left the role uncredited on his film, as he felt he was not qualified to accept the title. Regrettably, the exceedingly beautiful score by his four-time collaborator Jonny Greenwood, is slightly over-used, becoming intrusive at times (you can have too much of a good thing) but this is a minor hiccough. The elaborate costumes by Mark Bridges and the fabulous production design by Mark Tildesley round off what has to be one of the most sumptuous films to grace this year’s screen.
As always, it will be interesting to see who walks away with the golden statuettes at the Academy Awards in March and it’s shaping up to be a most interesting race. One can only assume that Phantom Thread will achieve at least some of the plaudits it deserves.