In Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest masterpiece, Day Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a genius dressmaker in 1950s London, whose methodical life is disturbed by the arrival of Alma, played by Vicky Krieps. The premise risks falling into clichés of great artists’ difficult personal lives, but the plot takes unexpected turns into territory completely its own, unfolding into a strange object which invites you to see it at different angles to reveal its exact form. It’s one of the many aspects of the film that invites viewing after viewing.
Another aspect is, predictably, the acting: the two leads craft richly detailed performances, with carefully poised body language and facial expressions containing huge depths of nuance. But Lesley Manville, playing Woodcock’s confident sister, threatens to steal several scenes from them; she’s a commanding presence when she’s on screen. She also gets many of the funniest lines – this somehow a hugely funny film, with several laugh-out-loud moments despite its often intense and complex themes.
But what makes Phantom Thread such a delight is the way it uses its performances in such uniquely odd, beautiful, dark and funny ways to emerge as a film far bigger than an Oscar-bait acting show. It touches on love, grief, romance, ghosts, beauty, art, mortality, and much more. When it’s finished, you’ll want to dive back in and look for everything you missed (and there will be lots). All this is packaged in technical brilliance from behind the camera: director Paul Thomas Anderson hints at Kubrick; there are flashes of Fellini; Bergman and Hitchcock aren’t far away. But nobody could have made this film but him. His tone is more more classically-inspired and unshowy than it has been before, and is complemented by Jonny Greenwood’s superb score.
Phantom Thread is a perfect title: the film is like a beautiful dress with a single loose thread; once you start pulling at it, it doesn’t stop, revealing more and more of its secrets the more you pull. It’s a film that will have people discovering new pleasures hidden within its linings for many years.