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'Phantom Thread' review - witness Daniel Day Lewis' final, ritualistic performance

This fashion-obsessed period piece is a cut above its Oscar competitors. Benjamin Smart reviews.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread sets the stage for what is supposedly the final performance of multi-Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis. If this self-imposed retirement is to be believed, then it can be said that Phantom Thread provides a spectacular farewell for the critically acclaimed character actor.

Set in 1950’s London following the unconventional life of a dressmaker, Anderson’s period drama slowly unpacks the relationship between Reynolds (Day-Lewis) and Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress who becomes a muse-turned-lover for the eccentric creator.

Whilst the premise appears conventional, the performances by the two leads elevate the mundane into something quite unique. The character of Reynolds is more than just one built on eccentricities; Daniel Day-Lewis portrays him as an established figure with a ritualistic approach to life that has not only led to his success, but detached him from humanity. His mannerisms are obsessive and outwardly come across as anything from petulant to unnaturally cold.

During the opening of the film we are shown a prior lover of whom he has grown tired, using his work to remove himself further from the reality of the situation. This behaviour is enabled through his business partner and sister Cyril who assumes a maternal role in Reynolds affairs and a barrier to the advances of Alma.

its bleak settings are rife with secrets, and elements of the monstrous are found throughout its characters

Alma becomes a vehicle for the audience as we follow the course of their relationship. From the achingly romantic as she becomes a muse for his creations, to the height of neurotic as the inner workings of his mind become clear to her.

Vicky Krieps has a charming naivety to her performance that makes it incredibly hard not to root for her as she attempts to find her own voice in a relationship that demands subservience.

Meet Alma. #PhantomThread

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There is an element of the Gothic to be found in Phantom Thread: its bleak settings are rife with secrets, and elements of the monstrous are found throughout its characters. Yet Paul Thomas Anderson manages to deconstruct the accompanying clichés, building a world that oozes romance whilst maintaining a sense of unease.

There is talk of curses being passed through dresses, fever dreams of the deceased, and woodland hunts for poisonous mushrooms, but all these elements are handled tastefully, ensuring the film never crosses into the realms of absurdity.

Phantom Thread provides a spectacular farewell for the critically acclaimed character actor

With regard to soundtrack, long time PTA collaborator Jonny Greenwood returns to deliver a score that is sublime in every sense. Muted piano and string arrangements rise and fall with an organic quality that, when blended with the story, manages to whisk the viewer away into the meticulously crafted world of Reynolds Woodcock.


It’s the rare occasion where the sounds that Jonny Greenwood has concocted are equally as impactful as the visual qualities of the film itself. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in his first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Music Score. From start to finish it’s a treat to the ears that begs to be listened to independently.

Paul Thomas Anderson delivers one of his finest films. It’s a beautifully crafted period drama that delves into the psychological without losing any charm.

Read more from Benjamin Smart on Twitter @bjsmart

Photo credit: Watershed

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