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USA 2017
Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson
130 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Phantom Thread

Synopsis; Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned couturier in 1950's London, whose ordered existence is disrupted by a strong-willed young woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his muse and eventually, wife.

Most directors have at least one or two also-rans on their C.V. but with Paul Thomas Anderson it is gold standard all the way starting with his debut, Hard Eight in 1996. His latest film is no exception even if it is a very different kettle of fish from his previous effort, 2014’s saucy, acid-fueled neo-noir, Inherent Vice. Whereas all Anderson’s films to date have been squarely American, Phantom Thread is set in London, and moreover, in the elegant, rarified world of haute couture. In this respect it represents a significant directorial change of pace although as we shall see, Anderson’s characteristic concern with the darker side of the psyche emerges in its later stages.

With marvellous production design, art direction and so on (Anderson also performs the role of director of photography) and exquisite costumes by Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread superbly evokes the Dior-inspired "New Look" of the1950s when London was one of the high fashion capitals of the world (Mary Quant and the Swinging Sixties were not yet a shadow on the horizon). The first half of the film is given over to conjuring up this fragile world, held together by Reynolds’ talent and the business savoir faire of his sternly cool sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). But n a whim Reynolds invites into his life a young woman who in becoming his latest model, mistress and muse (we briefly meet her predecessor on the way out) brings with her a very non-English self-possessedness that first piques Reynolds’ admiration but which, much to his chagrin, also challenges his well-armoured defences. The main thrust of the film is the development of this relationship, a dynamic which will gradually move from being a testy battle of wills into a psycho-sexual folie à deux.

Well, that is to give a bald summary of what goes on in Phantom Thread, although Anderson goes about it with such subtlety, even obliqueness, that it is only in hindsight that this becomes apparent.

Daniel Day-Lewis who has been Oscar-nominated for his performance (unfortunately for him he was up against Gary Oldman's tour-de-force in Darkest Hour), is as ever, marvellous, even if he does not lose himself so entirely in his character as he did with Christy Moore, Daniel Plainview and Honest Abe, at least initially seemingly over-mannered though warming to the role once Anna enters Reynolds' life. Vicky Krieps does a fine job opposite him and their relationship is never less than convincing, the stand-out scene being a surprise dinner that descends into a bitter argument (Anderson's script to which Day-Lewis made uncredited contributions, is also fine) and beautifully brought off by the two actors. As Reynolds' protective older sister, Lesley Manville weaves in and out of proceedings, an omniscient presence of few words, most of them (if you don't mind the pun), cutting.

Phantom Thread is a lovingly-crafted, and despite its restrained even repressed tone, dramatically rich film.




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