Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Annapurna Pictures/Focus Features/Ghoulardi Film Company/Perfect World Pictures
Writer/Director PT Anderson delivers another romance with cracks, another tale of quirk and obsession – and if this is (truly) Daniel Day-Lewis’ victory lap then it’s also a passing of the torch, in a manner of speaking, to Vicky Krieps.
We’re (immersed) in 1950s high-fashion London, where Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) dress royalty and celebrity – their dresses are perfect. The House of Woodcock is Reynolds’ obsession – his creative outlet is his life and the toll of it is worn on his face and seen in the traces of frustration and obsession that preoccupy him. His sister is the calmer pair of hands, a voice of reason – and if she seems cold and distanced then that’s a default-setting and device; necessary.
Into this enter Alma (Krieps) she’s strong-willed too – but she’s the muse Reynolds needs.
It’s an even four-hander though, the final (main) character in the film being Jonnny Greenwood’s score. Playing out as if a continuous piece of music – and dictating the flow and feel and folds of the film, Greenwood’s score seems to somehow sweep up bits and pieces of Faure and Debussy and serve them on the side. It’s mesmerising and potent. And perfect.
Reynolds’ various girlfriends are swept up and dispatched by Cyril – she makes the call. And after one such – a breakfast annoyance – Reynolds is off on a breather. And her he meets Alma – his trick to impress her is to order too much food. Theirs is an intriguing courtship – it’s as if he’s held the ether and cloth to her face; it’s then as if she’s grabbed it tight, pulled down for an extra draw.
Alma is Reynolds’ perfect shape for dress-making you see. She’s perfect or perfectly imperfect.
And as we’re watching this we wonder what might happen next – and when. Granted, some won’t have the patience for Phantom Thread, but there’s so much that is masterful in the way Anderson weaves together this tailored piece.
Shades of Hitchcock are there, sure. But it’s PT Anderson so there’s so much more – and even if it’s not that important I spotted several nods to Kubrick in the close up shots of the car (Clockwork Orange), the party scene (Eyes Wide Shut) and the close-ups and lighting (Barry Lyndon) which, maybe, Anderson does just to keep himself limber. Well, even if that’s the case it all amounts to his richest film since Punch-Drunk Love, his most intriguing sine The Master – and though you could link passages from this with almost all of his films it’s The Master and Punch Drunk that this most plays out like a combination of; the madness, the strangeness of love has always been Anderson’s abiding obsession in his filmmaking – and then various obsessions are dotted and draped over and around that. Here we have almost everyone else in the film silent – a chorus of dressmakers, for example. Are they there, saying nothing, to show how insular and arrogant the world of Reynolds Woodcock has become? Are they being wallpapered over by the soundtrack as a reminder that Anderson deals in fables; makes space and place for the absurd and strange to mingle, never wants absolute realism?
Reynolds’ unravelling comes at his frustration with a version of near-complacency. He needs some version of chaos, but at the same time has to have everything cut to fit, measured to suit; his aim is for a perfection – despite, or because of his frustrations, his madness. Ultimately.
I watched this agape. Dumbstruck by the beauty and audacity, the cleverness of it seeping in over days. But at the same time I could see how someone might have no time for it whatsoever – it’s slow pace, it’s in-built absurdities. I like that Anderson backs himself, his players and his vision. Here he’s made another masterpiece, consistent with his work to date. He really is the Kubrick of this age. And Phantom Thread has hints of many other stories, tempting you into thinking – the whole time – where it might go, how it might end, and tricking you, but keeping you onside, the whole way. That’s no mean feat.
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