Paul Thomas Anderson is the consummate actors’ director, consistently coaxing career-best performances from his leads – Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights, Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. He’s also fascinated by dysfunctional relationships, and the one at the heart of Phantom Thread makes the love affair between Sally Hawkins and the river monster in The Shape of Water look conventional.
Phantom Thread is also a triumphant return to form for Anderson after the shambolic drug trip that was Inherent Vice, reuniting him with Day-Lewis for what is supposedly the actor’s final bow before retirement.
Set in 1950’s London, Day-Lewis plays renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, a confirmed bachelor still grieving for his late mother and bound by the strictures of routine and perfection.
When he meets European waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps, resembling a young Julianne Moore), he is captivated; she becomes his model and muse, despite disrupting his carefully ordered existence.
She’s also his lover, although their relationship has all the warmth of an English winter. It’s not a romance in the traditional sense, it’s a strange co-dependency that’s borderline masochistic. Alma endures the vagaries of genius, from Woodcock’s petulant outbursts regarding noisy breakfasts and surprise dinners, to the depressive lows that follow his creative highs. But she’s quick to riposte, and it’s these moments that lighten the often dour mood.
Day-Lewis is of course outstanding in an incredibly nuanced performance, although his blood and thunder turn in There Will Be Blood remains his finest work. Lesley Manville is equally brilliant as his frosty sister and business partner, Cyril – the kind of pasty dowager that Judith Anderson and Joan Bennett used to play.
As finely crafted as one of Woodcock’s exquisite creations, albeit uncomfortable in the extreme, Phantom Thread isn’t a fashion film; the haute couture is simply elegant window dressing for a spellbinding Gothic melodrama in the tradition of Hitchcock’s Rebecca. However, disappointed fashionistas can still swoon over Belgian bridal gowns and rare Flemish lace.
In cinemas: February 1, 2018
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson