With three Academy Awards to his name, Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most decorated and respected actors of his generation. Since he announced his surprise retirement last year, his final film has been rife with anticipation. His cinema curtain call sees him reunite with writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson for 1950s romance drama Phantom Thread. The plot follows couturier Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) who, with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) runs a high-end dressmaking company in London. Whilst dining out for breakfast, Reynolds meets impressionable German waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps) who succumbs to his elegance and charm. They embark on a relationship, but she struggles to accustom to his peculiar routines.
On one hand, Woodcock can be regarded as charismatic, eloquent and supremely gifted. On the other he is a pedantic, petulant control freak who appears to view women only as mannequins to showcase his talents. The sumptuous score by composer Jonny Greenwood draws us into his wondrous world as Anderson crafts an increasingly intriguing character study which explores the deep-rooted issues of his psyche. As well as the elaborate script, there’s devil in the detail of the luxurious production design and the precise camera movements, which are in-keeping with the slick and sophisticated style of the piece.
Known for his method approach to the study roles he has taken on throughout his career, Day-Lewis embodies the sharp but softly-spoken Woodcock, giving a measured performance that contains nuances and extremities as his complex personality unfolds. Despite the story’s darkness, there’s a streak of very dry British humour that cuts through the narrative, helped by the eccentricities that Day-Lewis captures in the scathing frankness of the character. His stellar standard is at least matched if not surpassed by his co-stars Manville and Krieps who portray sister and spouse respectively. They are both remarkably good, and really come into their own when a power-shift changes the dynamics of the developing allegiances towards the final act.
Phantom Thread is a grandiose tale of toxic love that is completely bizarre in its brilliance. With stunning orchestral sounds leading us through the turbulence and the tension of Reynold and Alma’s relationship, Paul Thomas Anderson pulls the strings from afar, masterfully conducting a svelte swansong for leading man Daniel Day-Lewis.
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