Film Review: Phantom Thread

“Reynolds has made my dreams come true. And I have given him what he desires most in return… Every piece of me.”

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned dress maker in 1950s London in Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film “Phantom Thread”. Reynolds lives in a large English townhouse with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). His relationship with women is a little strenuous: no one comes close to his mother. When Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young, strong woman enters into his life it leads to huge disruption in Reynolds’s bachelor world.

The film opens with Alma discussing their relationship with a doctor, a relationship that is as mesmerising as it is delusional. This isn’t a film about love; it’s about obsession. Alma has the perfect body to model dresses, and Reynolds has a hidden vulnerability that allows Alma to gain what she craves: control.

Phantom Thread has a real sense of style, from the beautiful dresses designed in The House of Woodcock to the sophisticated soundtrack from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. Greenwood and Anderson have formed a strong collaboration throughout the years with Greenwood composing the music for Anderson’s previous works “There Will Be Blood”, “Inherent Vice” and “The Master”. The majority of scenes filled with lavish sounds that create a focus-point on which to build an entire world. The use of frantic string instruments showing how music and film can be merged emphatically.

This film is Day-Lewis’s final outing as an actor, channelling a multi-layered character in Reynolds. His quirks and subtleties throughout make for a humorous yet disturbing protagonist. There’s something quite creepy about stitching your dead mother’s hair into your chest pocket. Lesley Manville as Cyril, his sister, provides a voice of reason whilst simultaneously filling a cold, henchwoman role. There’s a great dynamic between Reynolds and Cyril, weirdly reminiscent of Harold’s relationship with his mother in Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude”. Cyril is always present, from tables for three at his dinner dates to awkward breakfast encounters. Reynolds needs his sister: she manages his life, making the decisions he wants to avoid, such as telling his love interests that they are no longer of importance and can leave when they see fit. In essence she embodies his dead mother, taking on her role as Reynolds’ safety.

Cinematically, Paul Thomas Anderson creates a world of high-fashion and elegance that captures attention. Seeing a dysfunctional love story unfold in a world so alien to most is relatable in a very odd way. Obsession is the main theme throughout this film, yet it doesn’t go to the extremes that you might expect. It’s very subtle, playing on the relationship as if it’s a gentle, yet piercing thread.

Phantom Thread is unique in its telling of the evolution in the relationship between the two lovers. They never really grow as a couple, more as individuals with particular wants and needs. Yet the invisible thread that ties them together means that whilst they are autonomous they are also totally inseparable, their need for one another becoming ever-present as the story comes to a close.

Phantom Thread is an intelligent analysis of dysfunctional love. It focuses on the obsession of successful individuals like Reynolds who have devoted their life to their trade, in this case dress-making. Alma enters his life and through her persistence turns it on his head. This film challenges the emotional strain of a relationship and the difficulties of loving someone who struggles to show the same feelings. Reynolds and Alma are probably better off without one another yet through their obsessive natures find themselves intertwined.

Phantom Thread is screening at Glasgow Film Theatre between the 5th of February – 21st of February. Anyone aged between 15 and 25 can get a free card from GFT that entitles them to £5.50 tickets to any standard screening.

By John-Anthony Disotto