Every so often I see a film that reminds me why I fell in love with the cinema. PT Anderson’s Phantom Thread is one such film. Ostensibly an oddball love story set in 1950s London, this is a more twisted tale than it first appears, with ghostly, oedipal undertones seeping from every meticulous frame.
The plot concerns renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), whose routine-based life is disrupted when he meets and is instantly attracted to waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps). Reynolds’s sister Cyril (Leslie Manville), who runs the business and facilitates his fastidious whims, at first believes Alma will prove merely the latest in a line of muses to be later discarded. However, gradually Alma becomes a more permanent fixture. The memory of Reynolds’s beloved mother looms like a shadow over proceedings, along with hints that Reynolds might be somehow cursed. As their fragile relationship threatens to crumble, Alma resorts to increasingly desperate measures to maintain her position.
Pointing out that the performances are fantastic feels like an exercise in redundancy. Day-Lewis is quite brilliant in what is supposedly his final ever role, and Krieps is a wonder, adding a quiet, subtle magic that brings real chemistry to their curious relationship. The superb screenplay features sparse, clipped dialogue that is often darkly funny, yet it is in the nuanced looks and gestures that the greater depths are added. Scenes featuring Reynolds’s distaste for loud eating are undoubtedly comic, but despite beautiful visuals (and costumes), the overall tone is bleaker, with even spectral apparitions adding to the air of profound melancholia.
Despite such prestigious cinematic influences as Hitchcock’s Rebecca and the films of Powell and Pressburger (especially The Red Shoes), Anderson’s film is unquestionably singular. A sublime music score from Jonny Greenwood stitches the drama together, adding layers of wistful nostalgia for a bygone cinematic era. Here I must add the usual warnings for strong language, though the swearing felt by no means gratuitous.
Themes of obsession, control, guilt and masochism are bound up within this rich tapestry of a film, and whilst it certainly isn’t for everyone, I have to say I absolutely loved it. Haunting, gripping and strangely moving, Phantom Thread is a dark romance that will definitely get under the skin of anyone with a serious interest in cinema.