Phantom Thread (2018)
Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.
Ro mah ro-mah-mah, Gaga oh-la-la!
Wow. This is such a dreamy study in obsession, a nightmarish twirl through the original bad romance – I’m in love and sickened by it, in equal measure. A feeling very much shared with our protagonist, dressmaker and true artiste Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis).
Woodcock is a well-respected designer dressing London’s debutantes and well to do with the help of his extensive staff and his live-in right-hand woman, his sister Cyril (Manville). Lovers, it would seem, come and go with the help of a little shove from sis and so far Woodcock has remained devoutly unmarried. As has Cyril.
One day our boy meets German waitress Alma (Krieps) at a countryside hotel and he’s a smitten kitten. In her he can see something special, a grace and charisma perfect for his garments and also his life. She joins the house of Woodcock as his assistant and muse, as well as his lover.
Woodcock is a funny old fish though, a patchwork of unique idiosyncrasies and an extremely low tolerance for other people, noise or movement. He must have things just so and that’s just the way it is.
So begins a battle of wills between Alma and her beau. Where Woodcock is set in his ways, Alma is rebellious and antagonistic. Simply, she knows how to get under his skin and it’s a pleasure to watch. As Alma loses her grip on Woodcock she figures out a foolproof way to keep him in check and so begins the sinister deepening of their union.
Phantom Thread has a dreamy quality to it and while it’s set in the fifties, it doesn’t have any of that bobby girl cliché to it. It’s a beautiful slice of period life with sumptuous costuming and interiors. The music works with instead of against the piece and adds to that almost timeless quality.
Apparently this is Day-Lewis’ last outing as an actor and if that’s true then it’s a pretty good one to go out on. The man is acting personified. He’s also incredibly handsome and elegant, a joy consume. It’s nice to be reminded just how great this guy is and makes me want to go back over his back catalog (starting with Last of the Mohichans).
Some of Woodcock’s rants are utterly wonderful, his dissatisfaction over the way Alma butters her toast at breakfast is a highlight, while his ‘anti-chic’ monologue is pure perfection. I laughed a lot and it’s the humour that keeps this movie *just* light enough to make the darkness bearable.
Chic? Oh, don’t you start using that filthy little word. Chic! Whoever invented that ought to be spanked in public. I don’t even know what that word means! What is that word? Fucking chic! They should be hung, drawn, and quartered. Fucking chic.
I love Manville’s Cyril who also gets some of the best lines and can convey emotion with the very slightest facial shift. In one scene she simply smiles across the table at Alma and it is everything. Krieps too is charming, particularly in shit-stirring mode.
All in all this is a heavy-weight that keeps you compelled and I loved it. It wasn’t what I expected and it’s better for that. The games the couple play shift the power constantly and it’s a satisfying peek into another way of maintaining a relationship, one you’d never want to be in yourself.