Dresses are designed to bring even the dullest body alive with colour, shape and style; to make the ordinary beautiful. And they are also designed to control: to tighten the breath, to project personality and to hide or reveal whatever the maker chooses.
Paul Thomas Anderson uses this inherent power dynamic to build a complex, sympathetic and scathing portrait of a genius, warts and all. One can imagine a lesser writer or director presenting an antihero you love to hate and letting them loose in a fit of anger. Instead, Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis have created a tender, uncompromising and endlessly fascinating character who is neither a hero nor a villain, but a human.
Anderson achieves this by placing us into the clockwork body of Reynolds Woodcock’s high-fashion beauty machine, for it’s only as a cog that we can understand the necessity of such order and precision and the beauty it creates. The tick and the tock. Everything must be in its right place for Woodcock, and how can you argue with obsessive control when it produces such genius?
Anderson glories in this mechanical creative harmony then glories in destroying it, jamming a crowbar between the wheels and grinning as the machine stutters and breaks. For this isn’t just a drama of the fragile male creative ego; thanks to Vicky Krieps’ brilliant muse it’s also about the thrill of being desired and the shame of being used.
Phantom Thread feels like a guilty gift, stolen from another era of filmmaking. It has an arched brow and a vocabulary of withering, delightful insults, all accompanied by Jonny Greenwood’s masterpiece of a score.
This is Woodcock’s world, and Day-Lewis’, and Anderson’s, and we can leave any time we like. But when it feels this blissful, why on earth would we want to?
CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Sue Clark, Julia Davis
DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson
WRITER: Paul Thomas Anderson
SYNOPSIS: Set in 1950s 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.