In 1950s London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) run The House of Woodcock, creating dresses for members of high society. Their tailored lives enter a state of disorder when the obsessive Reynolds meets a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his muse and love interest.
Daniel Day-Lewis’ previous collaboration with his Phantom Thread director Paul Thomas Anderson, the 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood, saw the method actor win his second Oscar for Best Actor. Here, in supposedly the final film before his retirement, Day-Lewis gives arguably his finest performance in one of the greatest films of his career. Unpredictable and alluringly pernicious, the English actor’s brooding intensity is matched perfectly with this perturbing and relentless thriller.
Even with Day-Lewis’ performance, much of Phantom Thread’s success must be attributed to Anderson’s direction - the film is a technical marvel. Combined with Jonny Greenwood’s brilliantly disturbing score and acerbic performances, the sumptuous cinematography creates a constant and very unnerving tension. Surprisingly, no director of photography is credited, as writer-director Anderson leads a collective cinematographic effort in place of his regular collaborator Robert Elswit. Anderson handles this with aplomb, leading the viewer through a number of immaculate, sweeping locations as well as creating an inescapable sense of claustrophobia when required. This comes to a head during an acutely shot and incredibly noisy breakfast scene, which is met with a tumultuous reaction from Day-Lewis and is as nerve-racking as any scene from the past twelve months.
As well as Day-Lewis, the film boasts a fine cast. In a less showy role than that of Reynolds, Lesley Manville is quietly superb as Cyril. Her friction with Alma develops the triangle at the heart of the film, while her delivery of several cutting one-liners provides welcome humour. As Alma, arguably the film’s catalyst, Luxembourgish actress Vicky Krieps gives an assured performance opposite the two seasoned performers and is unfortunate to be the only member of the film’s leading trio not to be Oscar nominated. Far from quelled by the talent and star power of the leading man, Kreips has excellent chemistry with Day-Lewis and takes the opportunity to exhibit her extensive ability.
If this is to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ swansong, he will have departed from acting in perhaps the most stylish and accomplished possible manner. His second collaboration with Anderson has produced a brilliantly nuanced, beguiling performance and a film that ranks among the director and star’s very best.
Much like Reynolds Woodcock’s dresses, Phantom Thread is elegant, exquisitely produced, and has much more to it than meets the eye. While Paul Thomas Anderson is making films, it would be foolish for Day-Lewis not to be involved. Here’s hoping that his retirement is no more than a posturing publicity stunt.