Phantom Thread Review – Merely an illusion. (By Tom Armstrong)

After watching Phantom Thread, it has taken me a good few days to come to my keyboard and start typing away about it. The film, still as I am writing this, remains a vast enigma to me. For a film that is so soft on the eye, delicate with each precise sound, meaningful with every touch, often bitter and sweet with taste, it is a film that reeks of manipulation, passion and love.

The story focuses on the relationship between Reynolds Woodcock, a world-renowned dressmaker and owner of fashion house ‘Woodcock’, and a waitress he meets called Alma, who quickly becomes his muse.  

Reynolds is a quiet and shy soul who is deeply affected by the death of his mother. He is a man that has tried and failed numerous times in the battle of love. He thinks that he is cursed. Almost everything in Reynolds life is controlled for him by other people, mainly by his sister, Cyril. Cyril runs the financial side of the business, clients, invitations and holds a huge amount of power over Reynolds.

Due to his commitment and eye for his craft, Reynolds often overlooks much else in his life, therefore Cyril is there to make decisions for him, in regard to his personal life. It’s almost as if the absence of his Mother has left him with no one to look after him and Cyril has stepped in to fill his motherless gap. He’s fragile, burdened, yet kind and nurturing. You see his compassionate side most when he is at his weakest, and this is why he loves Alma so much. She brings his tenderness out of him.

Alma is just about everything that Reynolds isn’t. She’s clumsy, loud and brash. She struggles not being the centre of Reynolds attention, and this is where the manipulation and acceptance occurs. By the end of the film he gives in to these moments to allow their true relationship to unfurl and blossom.

Often charming and sometimes shocking, Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Reynolds is as detailed and controlled as his character’s dressmaking. Every moment he’s on the screen the viewer is captivated by his every gaze and trying to decipher each passing thought that may be going through his mind. It is he that is the Phantom, the illusion, the mystery and it’s so satisfying to see a performance as controlled and as formed as his. He truly is, and you believe he is, this cursed and gifted soul all in one. One moment you’re intrigued, the next you’re repelled. One moment you’re in awe of his talent, the next you wish he’d like butter. As you can tell I was enamoured by his performance and I’m sure that my fandom will only grow stronger and deeper by watching it more.

For every Yin, there is a Yang, and Vicky Krieps as Alma is Reynolds greatest opponent. She irritates, romances and challenges Reynolds (and the viewer I might add) the moment she graces the screen and stays his equal right to the very end. She does such a fantastic role of digging deeper into Reynolds’ life that the viewer is left grateful for her intrusion. She finds things out for us that no one else could have done, she is what makes him tick and Krieps does this beautifully well. A very confident yet emotional performance that should be remembered as much as Day-Lewis’. They are an unexpected pair that shouldn’t be playing against each other, we much prefer them on the same team by the end of the film, that’s for sure.

My praise should also extend to Leslie Mannville who plays the short and icy Cyril, the somewhat villain of the piece. Her performance carries such composure and power, and should not be overlooked.

All of this would not be possible of course, if it wasn’t for Paul Thomas Anderson’s script. It’s concise, precise and ambiguous and really pushes the viewer to work and think about the character’s exchanges. Anderson wants you to read into things, he wants you to become like Reynolds, look for detail and secrets and you shall find them. As well as his script his direction is spot on. He had a clear idea of how this piece should walk and by the end it’s running. The framing and colour palate are soft and delicate. Like the script PTA is making you work with each frame, read into it and the outcome is very satisfying indeed. A magnificent example of a writer holding on to their vision and not allowing any others to tamper with it. From the story to the performances to the direction, it’s all weaved and threaded together seamlessly and it’s a delightfully mysterious watch. The perfect fit.







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