Phantom Thread - 9/10
“Reynolds has made my dreams come true. And I have given him what he desires most in return. Every piece of me.”
The opening words of Phantom Thread give us a hint of what’s to come. However, this is no typical romance.
The film is set in the heyday of tailored fashion, 1950s London, at the house of Woodcock. In what has been declared his final role, Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds, the dressmaker and fashion designer of the house. Reynolds believes that the world revolves around him and indeed his world does. His sister Cyril caters to his every whim, disposing of his ‘muses’ when he grows tired of them. That is, until he meets Alma.
The opening of the film is wonderfully romantic. As we’re first introduced to the house, we follow the camera up the winding staircase, not unlike a turret in a castle from a Disney fairytale. Jonny Greenwood’s enchanting score woos the audience into delight at the setting. It’s hard not to notice the homage to some of Hollywood’s classic romances in these opening scenes.
However, as is typical in director Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, this early seduction of the audience is swiftly replaced by a series of unsettling clues which hint at a darkness beneath. This is, of course, also typical of any true fairytale.
The voyeuristic camerawork contributes to this sense of latent danger, forcing the audience to peer through bannisters just as the characters themselves spy on each other through doorways and windows.
As may be expected from a collaboration between Day-Lewis and Anderson, Phantom Thread is a small scale film with big themes. The title of the film is a phrase used by seamstresses who would mechanically make sewing movements with their hands long after their work had finished. Indeed, the spiritual undertones throughout echo this idea that we are the sum total of our experiences, and that events - though past - are not so easily erased from the psyche. Reynolds made his mother’s wedding dress as a teenager and he feels haunted by her presence, even seeing her ghost in a sickness-induced delirium. ‘You can sew almost anything into the canvas of a coat’, Reynolds comments, as he reveals he’s sewn a lock of his mother’s hair into the the hem of his suit jacket, so that she is ‘always with him’. In another scene at dinner, he says to Cyril ‘it’s comforting to know that the dead watch over the living. I don’t find that spooky at all’.
The film explores the notion of motherhood and the transition to marriage that a man often makes. Reynolds seems to believe that no one is good enough to truly take the place of his mother, in his heart and his life. But the unexpected twists and turns of his romance with Alma make for some of the film’s most memorable moments. This includes the best depiction of asparagus-related aggression since American Beauty!
In short, it’s a wonderfully intricate film. Every frame is carefully stitched and every scene woven with finesse. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a brilliantly controlled, darkly comic performance, but newcomer Vicky Krieps (Alma) is just as crucial to the film’s allure. Lesley Manville gives a brilliantly stoic performance as the real head of the house, Cyril.
Phantom Thread is a beautiful but twisted fairytale that effortlessly echoes the work of Alfred Hitchcock, Walt Disney and David Lean. Yet it is very much it’s own film, and is unsurprisingly gaining attention in the 2018 Oscar season. It leaves an indelible mark on the audience and, like a seamstress’s phantom thread, it persists in your heart and mind long after the credits have rolled and the final stitch sewn.
Review by Dave Howarth