Reynolds Woodcock runs a highly respected fashion house designing dresses and gowns for high society ladies. Upon finishing one such gown he retires to the country where he meets waitress, Alma, who he begins a relationship with; she is his muse, assistant and model. However, his controlling personality soon leads to something a lot darker and more seductive.
Phantom Thread is a luxurious experience, almost like you are being smothered in satin, velvet and lace. There is a distinct evocation of classic films of the 1940’s, equal part Hitchcock melodrama and surreal Powel and Pressburger fairy-tale. You can almost feel the brush of fabric against your face. This is helped tremendously by a decadent cinematography and set design, perfectly created to show off the bright, white marble of House Woodcock’s staircases and the deep purple of Alma’s dresses. This is perfectly complimented by Johnny Greenwood’s stirring score, which plays upon the melodramatic motifs in previous films, yet it lends something that is deeply off-putting and is the first hint at those secret messages that Woodcock has been sewing into the hems of his dresses.
The characters that populate House Woodcock are similarly fascinating, complex and engaging. Daniel Day-Lewis fills the screen with personality as the obsessive Reynolds, with elements of both monster and prince at weave together to create something wholly unexpected and incredibly offputting. He is George Fortescue Maximilian “Maxim” de Winter from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 classic Daphne Demorea adaptation Rebecca, he is Johnnie Aysgarth from Suspicion; a man with secrets and passions desperately straining at the seems of a well-dressed figure. Many will talk about the work that Day-Lewis puts into his roles and this is no exception, but regardless of the preparation, Reynolds Woodcock will go down in history as one of a great actor’s greatest performances. It is a performance of quiet control, one that barely contains the hunger that almost consumes him.
Vicky Krieps as Alma is similarly quiet, submissive but as the film continues, it is clear that she is more than she appears. Alma is a woman with a strong will and devotion, she embodies both aspects of the second Mrs de Winter and Mrs Danvers in Rebecca just as Reynolds is Maxim. The fact that she can be on screen with one of the world’s most forceful screen personalities and not be subsumed like so many others speaks to Krieps’ talent as an actress and Thomas Andersons gift as a director. The two together though throw sparks of pure cinema gold across the screen. Their chemistry is volatile and beautiful like a volcano and the final form of that romance is equal parts touching and upsetting. However, it is not just the lead couple that shine like diamonds sewn into the lining, Lesley Manville is perfectly rigid as Reynolds’ sister Cyril, providing a counterpoint to Alma in every way.
The film does leave a bitter taste in the end, with a plot twist that was seemingly out of place at the time of watching but makes perfect sense when you look back on it. This is perhaps one of the only possible missteps in a film that I would very happily roll around in.
Phantom Thread is a well-tailored suit, each element complementing each other to create a garment that on the whole surrounds the wearer in a luxuriant comfort one could stay in forever. It is a film that layers itself expertly and with top-notch performances its one film you owe it to yourself to try on.
You can watch Phantom Thread in cinemas now