Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis rarely works. When he does and the rumors begin to swirl his next film or project typically hits a fever pitch upon release. Simply put, it’s an event. A once every half-decade moment to come together as cinephiles and revel in one of the finest actors we’ve had the privilege to see work. When it’s announced DDL will be retiring after his next project and what he’s chosen is to reteam with his There Will Be Blood Director Paul Thomas Anderson for one last hurrah – well, they hype couldn’t possibly ascend any higher.
Thus we have Phantom Thread – a lavishly produced, immaculately conceived, devilishly kinky work of art that only this team could create. It’s a film that will stay with you long after it’s final twist as you bask in the glow of the costumes and the stellar work of the cast and crew. It’s PTA at his twisted finest, a work wholly unique to cinema – and just on that merit alone it should be considered appointment viewing.
Here DDL plays 1950’s fictional British dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock – a man so revered for his work that the expectations to deliver on it clobber his psyche and physical wellbeing after each beautiful iteration. After he completes a dress he retreats to his country home to recover. Here, alongside his loyal sister/assistant/life partner Cyril Woodcock (Lesley Manville) he takes his time getting back on his feet while they search for inspiration for his next piece.
Initially, upon arrival Reynolds is alone and finds himself at the local restaurant for breakfast. He’s waited on by a beautiful young woman named Alma (Vicky Krieps) who he tests by ordering seemingly the entire menu with very specific instructions. Soon after, he’s asked her on a date and begins designing – seemingly he’s found his next muse.
When Alma agrees to return to London with Reynolds and Cyril Phantom Thread truly hits its stride. There’s a steadiness to the pacing – almost as if PTA is mimicking the calm hands it would take to create a dress of the caliber of house Woodcock. Here we see the true power and meticulous schedule that Reynolds holds over his assistants and generally all the women in his life. He tries to bend Alma to these whims but she doesn’t have it – trying to understand this man that she’s fallen for rather than bow to his every request.
This infuriates Reynolds as he designs a very important dress for a princess from Belgium (a woman who he’s designed every gown for since her birth.) He can’t eat breakfast with her as she chews louder than any human he’s ever met – he can’t concentrate when he’s stitching – and when they get a moment alone she interrogates him rather than let him have peace. You know – like a real relationship.
The crux of the humor here is Reynolds NEED to dominate Alma and her pragmatic resistance to his absurd lifestyle. Of course she admires his genius but Alma doesn’t buy the patriarchal nature of his downtown mansion. It’s subtle but often hysterical to watch them snipe at each other – neither wanting to give ground – until both take slightly more extreme measures.
It cannot be understated how beautiful Phantom Thread is. From the stunning costume design by Mark Bridges to the beautiful production design of Mark Tildesly to the hauntingly memorable score of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood – it’s truly a marvelous achievement.
And if this is DDL’s final on-screen performance I suppose it’s a fitting one. He is magnificent as usual – falling deeply into Reynold’s skin – giving us one last glimpse at his breathtaking talent. But Vicky Krieps as Alma is the true star of Phantom Thread. She is every bit his equal and eclipses the star in key moments. She finds the naivete in Alma but also the strength to stand up to a man who may mean well but could be a monster. It’s a loving portrayal and one that elevates Phantom Thread to one of PTA’s best.