Paul Thomas Anderson's masterful melodrama features what may be Daniel Day-Lewis's final performance
As a portrait of the brilliant male artist as tortured deity, Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread has a great deal in common with Darren Aronofsky's mother!. But whereas Aronofsky's vision proved nothing more than a bombastic exercise in provocation, Anderson has turned in an idiosyncratic character study that's cut from the same cloth as post-war melodrama, but has a modern style all its own.
Like its protagonist, the themes of writer-director Anderson's film are difficult by wilful design. In 1950s London, haute couture dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) conceives exquisite creations coveted in the highest echelons of society yet, while he's happy to make women look beautiful, he treats those closest to him with contempt. Only his sister and business partner Cyril (a superb Lesley Manville) can pierce his pomp but, when he meets the striking Alma (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his muse and then his lover, their carefully curated world is turned upside down.
In what is reportedly his final role before retirement, Day-Lewis breathes vigour and vulnerability into the character of Reynolds, whose often abhorrent behaviour originates from a place of emotional immaturity rather than cruelty. A man who gleans comfort in the exacting nature of his work, he finds the undulations and expectations of love unsettling and, in the face of Alma's unmatched pull, utterly overwhelming.
As Alma, Krieps is mesmerising, not just in her languid look, but also her quiet strength. Utterly seduced by Reynolds, she nevertheless recognises his controlling behaviour and refuses to allow it to engulf her. By the time she asserts her own unconventional rules on their relationship, culminating in a virtually wordless kitchen table sequence that is operatic in execution, Alma has well and truly changed the game.
On its surface, Phantom Thread may be another film about an exceptionally talented man and the women enthralled in his orbit but, in the masterful hands of Anderson and his cast, it becomes a multi-layered, expertly-observed study of desire, control and the ties that bind.
General release from Fri 2 Feb.