Phantom Thread (15)

Nov 14, 2018
Cranbrook Film Society

In his final film Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a masterful performance as a fastidious and cantankerous 1950’s London couturier beguiled by a young waitress. Decadent and elegant, with flourishes of absurdity the film has an excellent score and delivers a drama of delicious pleasure.

Paul Thomas Anderson | USA | 2017 | 127 mins | 15


What kind of love story is ‘Phantom Thread’? The wrenching tale of a woman’s love for a man and a man’s love for his work. A dry comic study of the asymmetries and conflicts in the heart of a marriage. A refined Gothic nightmare in the manner of Henry James. A perverse psychological fable of unchecked ego and of unhinged desires. That’s a partial catalogue and one that cannot quite capture how bizarre this movie is.” – NEW YORK TIMES.


‘Phantom Thread’ is an exquisitely crafted period drama, with an intelligent score, impeccable acting, and costumes to die for. It is a representation of ephemeral beauty and pleasure and is in some ways an insubstantial whimsy. Above all it is a feast for the eyes and for the taste buds.


Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock. He is a couturier and works in London in the 1950s. His fashion house is set in Fitzroy Square in a stunning Georgian house that is now on the market for fifteen million. He lives there with his sister, who like their mother before her indulged his every whim and allowed him to become the man he is. Reynolds designs for a series of elegant women, whom he discards in favour of the next, until he meets Alma over breakfast. Food features large in this film. Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, is more than a match for Reynolds, and is arguably the better actor too. Their relationship provides moments of dark comedy and is portrayed with a sense of mischief. Their battle for power is the story.


The score deserved its Oscar times over. Jonny Greenwood, the musical director, has married mournful tones resonant of Schumann with the suavity of jazz impresario and composer Gil Evans to form an important backdrop. This is the fourth film he has worked on with the film’s director, Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson shot the film himself in collaboration with lighting director, Michael Bauman. He wanted it to look authentic and so ‘pushed’ the film to increase graininess, and to saturate colour. To achieve this he essentially overdeveloped the film, saying that he was determined his film would not be like the ‘Crown’ in its technical brilliance and sharpness. His direction reminds us forcibly of Hitchcock especially the manner of his cuts. His picture framing is strongly influenced by Stanley Kubrick.


The film locations included the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, the wonderfully named Owlpen Manor in the Cotswolds and Lythe on the Scarborough Bay. The settings reflect the piece wonderfully and like the music enhance the real stars of the film, the costumes. American designer, Mark Bridges is had a wonderful time creating gowns influenced by the French House of Balenciaga. If you buy the Woodcock House you may as well order a gown too. The lengths the filmmaker went to represent the world of couture was extraordinary, and it shows. Two British seamstresses who were recruited to advise were incorporated into the film’s atelier and Day-Lewis learnt to sew. By his hundredth buttonhole he was perfect. This is an understatement. He spent more than a year absorbing the traits and talents of Balenciaga. This is characteristic of him, For ‘My Left Foot’ he spent the entire shoot in a wheelchair, for “In the Name of the Father’ he spent two days and nights in a prison cell without food or water; for ‘Unbearable Lightness of Being, he learned to speak Czech and for ‘Gangs of New York’ he trained as a butcher and went out picking street fights. He claims this is the last film.


There have been many discussions as to the significance of the film’s title, ranging from Victorian seamstresses being unable to stop sewing in the air when their labours were done to it referring to fate in some way. Perhaps none of these are right. Reynolds used to sew messages into the gowns he created. Paul Thomas Anderson seems to have incorporated his own name into the title of the piece. It may be nothing more than that.


            Weighted vote 81.06%