Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
And with one film, we bid farewell to one of the single greatest actors of all time. Daniel Day-Lewis is retiring, and Phantom Thread by Paul Thomas Anderson is the film that got his final performance. Having worked with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Steven Frears, Day-Lewis is calling it a day on his extreme performing work.
There’s not really a strict narrative to Phantom Thread – most Anderson movies don’t follow plotlines. Instead, we have the intimate character study of three people. Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a fashion designer, owner of the House of Woodcock and one of the most respected in his field. Living with both collaboration of bizarre mothering by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) Reynolds’ life changes when a chance encounter at a small-town cafe brings him into contact with Alma (Vicky Krieps).
Having forged a career out of playing intense, aggressive types, people prone to loud expressions of anger, of resentment and of fury, how interesting that Day-Lewis would pick such a reserved person for his swansong. Reynolds Woodwock is someone who might offer a smile, or a tilt of the head, someone who isn’t really a shouter; he’s someone who uses very few words and the words he uses are pointed and decided. He’s an overgrown child in a way, living in his own slightly obsessive world of how he works. It’s a perfect performance, empty of the usual fire and brimstone. There are no passionate speeches about freedom here as with Lincoln, nor are there any lines half as bizarre as “I drink your milkshake” from There Will Be Blood.
It’s easy to get lost in a film that is so much about one person’s performance, but with both Manville and Krieps we have two actresses who can more than hold their own against the acting titan. Manville plays Cyril Woodcock like a cross between Mrs Danvers and Bipolar Mary Poppins, a sister who acts as a mother to her younger brother. The fact that she is unmarried appears as a point of contention as if she is doomed to fill a role she never asked for. Another quiet performance, but what works best is that the characters are all told in the way they dress, move and look at one another and never with a reliance on people explaining things.
It’s actually in the score for Phantom Thread that gets things going. Johnny Greenwood weaves a score so rich and moving that even as the film fails to find a rationale for the actions of the characters, it moves us along, and moves us emotionally. It’s a triumph of music that proves sometimes the Academy can overlook someone for so long – Greenwood is a master of music and is all but guaranteed his Academy Award.
It’s also important to note just how funny the film is, not laugh-out-loud in the manner of say a film like Thor: Ragnarok was, but witty in the interactions of the characters and their actions. It’s impressive to see that Anderson does know what is funny and actively makes us chuckle at certain lines even though this is by no means a comedy film.
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It’s also impressive to note that this is a film that refers to films of the past. Not just in the obsessive genius cinema trope with a younger woman which most obviously calls to mind The Red Shoes, or the dress making calling to mind Cinderella, but films like A Clockwork Orange. The most obvious is how much Phantom Thread resembles the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Not just because Day-Lewis would always have been a perfect Maxim Dewinter, but because Manville is one biting comment away from turning into Mrs Danvers.
As it is, Phantom Thread is a triumph for all involved, heralding the arrival the enchanting Vicky Krieps, and saluting a farewell to the acting career of Daniel Day-Lewis. Perhaps he’s spend his time doing other things like butchery, shoe making, oil drilling or dress making. He mastered them all in pursuit of his art, now he might start his own shoe brand.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.