D: Paul Thomas Anderson / 130m
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford, Gina McKee, Brian Gleeson, Harriet Sansom Harris, Lujza Richter, Julia Davis
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest movie, we’re introduced to the splendidly named Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), a London-based couturier to those with money and prestige and power. Woodcock’s name is a byword for quality, and his meticulous designs and ability to match the outfit to the client has brought him his own versions of his clients’ money, prestige and power. He is fastidious, particular, uncompromising, and resolute. When he meets a waitress, Alma (Krieps), a relationship develops between them, and she moves into the home which also serves as his fashion house. Alma becomes Woodcock’s lover, and also his muse and assistant. But Woodcock proves to be a difficult partner to please. His daily routines are ingrained and not to be interfered with, and his idea of a relationship is that it comes second to the work he does. Alma rails against this, but it’s only when Woodcock falls ill and she nurses him back to health that their mutual need for each other becomes apparent and things improve between them. But Woodcock’s mercurial yet pedantic nature soon reasserts itself, and Alma’s importance in his life becomes even more precarious…
Coco Chanel once said, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” In the world of Reynolds Woodcock, he would no doubt amend Chanel’s statement to read “remember the designer.” Woodcock is a creative genius who basks in the reflected glory of the outfits he designs, his position within the upper echelons of 50’s London high society assured because of the work ethic he has devised, and because he doesn’t deviate from that work ethic. And he expects everyone around him to fit in with that work ethic also; for Woodcock, nothing is more important than the dress or the outfit he’s creating. The beauty of Anderson’s foray into The House of Woodcock is the challenge to his authority from Alma. Can she break through the barriers that Woodcock has erected over the years, and can she get him to focus on her rather than his designs? Anderson wants you to think she can, but at the same time he won’t make it easy for her, and his script is often a series of brutal rebuttals punctuated by moments of calm that offer both Alma and the viewer a sense of hope. Alma, though, is just as stubborn as Woodcock, and just as tenacious in what she wants. This is force majeure for lovers.
Anderson is on dazzling form here, his own considerable creative energies in service to a story that is formed of strong emotional undercurrents and perceptive examinations of the shifting balances of power within a relationship that is both mutually beneficial and destructive. It all plays out against a rarefied world that’s much like love itself: heightened and demanding, but also incredibly rewarding. Woodcock and Alma battle against each other for dominance, and their war brooks no attrition, and yet Anderson never allows the viewer to lose sight of the fact that they are in love with each other. It’s a compelling, sometimes devastating story, and each twist and turn is superbly orchestrated by Anderson, and delivered impeccably by Day-Lewis and Krieps, their performances drawing you in and making you understand fully the characters and their motivations. They’re ably supported by Manville as Woodcock’s no-nonsense yet sensitive sister Cyril, tremendous cinematography and production design (by an uncredited Anderson, and Mark Tildesley respectively), and yet another hugely impressive score by Jonny Greenwood. This is a beautiful, meticulously assembled movie that looks austere from the outside, but which has an energy and a passion seen all too rarely in modern cinema.
Rating: 9/10 – a movie that explores a world few of us will have any direct knowledge of, but which guides us through it with so much assurance, Phantom Thread is like a love letter to a different age: enchanting, exhilarating, and exquisitely depicted; on this evidence, Anderson is possibly the finest writer/director working today, such is the confidence he shows here in detailing both the narrative and the characters.