Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth film is as finely stitched as one of the couture gowns designed by its flawed protagonist, Reynolds Woodcock. A 1950s London couturier, Woodcock is played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who previously worked with Anderson on There Will Be Blood as the oil baron Daniel Plainview. In Phantom Thread, he is almost the opposite: precious and particular. He runs the House of Woodcock with his no-nonsense sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, on withering form) and dresses women of high society and royalty.
When we meet him, he’s in the process of extricating himself from his latest relationship, a woman he no longer has a use for. His work is everything, it seems, but he clearly requires a muse. Then he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a German immigrant waitress in a boarding house that he stays in. He woos her, introducing her to his rarefied world. At first he measures her for a dress; later she models his latest collection in front of expectant clients. But is she just his latest mannequin? Will he ever really love her in the way he loves his fabrics?
For those who have followed Anderson’s dazzling career, this is yet another left-field turn – a gothic romance cut from the same cloth as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Day-Lewis, in what he claims will be his last performance, is quite marvellous – eccentric, self-absorbed, humorous, cruel. It’s a fine character study of a childish and childlike creative spirit, matched in intensity by the relatively unknown Luxembourg-born actress Krieps, who offers a spirited turn as the fiery Alma.
Shot by Anderson, uncredited, the film features a remarkable score from Anderson’s regular collaborator, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, one that fully deserves its Oscar nomination. Swooning, unsettling, overwhelming, it perfectly complements Anderson’s idiosyncratic film, one that feels like it’s been dug up from a time capsule. Like his earlier film, Punch-Drunk Love, it’s a perfectly realised look at the way love warps us. Fashion fans will enjoy trying to decipher exactly who Reynolds is based on – Norman Hartnell springs to mind – but Phantom Thread is far more than a couture biopic. This is a unique work cut from a very different cloth.
Phantom Thread opens in cinemas from 2 February. For more information, click here.
1. Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread. Laurie Sparham/Focus Features.