Phantom Thread, rated R
Phantom Thread is a very well-acted film about a British dressmaker and the women in his life, starring acclaimed actor Daniel Day-Lewis. The movie is beautifully filmed and is supported by a very good musical score. Unfortunately, none of the main characters in the film are very unlikeable and thus I didn’t find myself caring about them. In addition, there is significant content concern which discerning viewers will want to make note of.
The film is directed and written by six-time Oscar nominee Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice, There Will Be Blood, Magnolia), who also served as cinematographer for the film. It was nominated for two Golden Globe awards (Best Actor and Best Original Music Score), and will most likely receive some Oscar nominations in the near future.
There are three primary characters in the film which is set in postwar 1950’s Britain. Three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln, There Will Be Blood, My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown) announced that this would be his last
film as he will be retiring from acting. He portrays the renowned and self-obsessed fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. The character is rumored to be based on both Cristóbal Balenciaga and Charles James.
Woodcock, a confirmed bachelor, can be demanding and cruel. He and his sister Cyril, who he refers to as his “so and so”, played by Lesley Manville (Another Year), run the House of Woodcock and are the top choice of the British elite for fashion. Many of the staff at the House of Woodcock are played by real seamstresses and are persons connected with the fashion world.
We see that there are love interests that come in and out of Reynolds’ life, but he soon tires of all of them. Sister and business partner Cyril is his only lasting relationship.
One day we see Reynolds meet Alma, a waitress at a hotel restaurant, played by Vickie Krieps. She is much younger than Reynolds. They make an instant connection, and Woodcock asks her out to dinner that evening. Reynolds tells Alma about his late mother, but doesn’t ask Alma anything about herself. Reynolds had a very close relationship with his mother, and continues to feel her presence. Later that evening, Reynolds and Alma go to his country home where he measures her for a dress. She is the ideal size as a model for him.
Soon Alma moves into the home of Reynolds and Cyril, which also serves as the location of their dressmaking business. This doesn’t please Cyril, who is loyal to her brother and their business, and we see a competition of sorts between the two women for Reynolds’ affections and attention. A theme throughout the film is the shifting of power between the two women.
Reynolds has very established routines and doesn’t react well to any changes to them. More than just a dress designer, he’s an artist. He’s also a narcissist, and can be mean and rude. We don’t see a lot of affection between he and Alma. She’s not really sure why she is there. Is she just a model, or Reynolds’ lover? Then we see Alma take a shocking action aimed to draw Reynolds to her. Keep an eye out for the themes of being needed and being in control.
Music plays a large role in this film through the score of Jonny Greenwood and other classical music. The movie is beautifully filmed, with an excellent use of color and precise details as we see Reynolds and the seamstresses work on the dresses. But key to the film is the juxtaposition between the beauty of the film (color, dressmaking, homes and landscape, people and music), and the darkness of the nature of the relationships between the three main characters.
Phantom Thread is beautifully filmed and superbly acted by all three of the main characters, though a bit slow moving. Daniel Day-Lewis may very well earn another Oscar nomination for his work here. The film receives an “R” rating for some adult language, primarily from Reynolds, and the perverse and twisted manner in which the relationship between Reynolds and Alma plays out. Because of the latter, we cannot recommend this film for people of faith.