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Screened for critics and press ‘for your consideration’ awards season, PHANTOM THREAD (opening Christmas Day) already arrives with accolades of good news. PHANTOM THREAD marks two of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s firsts. PHANTOM THREAD is his first film shot outside the U.S. and also makes his most structured film.. Which is good, as his looser piece THE MASTER was a mess.
50’s London. The film’s main character is renowned dressmaker named Reynolds Jeremiah Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis). He and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) dress members of the royal family, film stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames with the distinctive style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a strong-willed young woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.
A major factor in PHANTOM THREAD is necessarily the costumes. Mark Bridges is credited for doing the costumes which include some of his original designs along with designs from Versace and Balenciaga. Supporting actress Lesley Manville has been quoted as saying that she spent more time fitting than in acting rehearsals.
Three-time Oscar WinnerDay-Lewis is nothing short of perfect as the obsessive perfectionist designer. But star credit goes to Mike Leigh’s favourite actress Lesley Manville who plays Reynold’s sister, Cyril who is more that just a sister. She controls her brother and everything around her. Obviously things come to a boil when she tries to keep Alma under her hand.
The film is bookmarked by Alma telling and narrating her love story. Written by Anderson, one assumes that the film is based on fiction as the story includes a chapter in which Ama poisons Woodcock with mushrooms. A murderer would never confess a murder in his or her story. The film is best described as a trouble romantic drama rather that a biopic of a famous designer. Anderson captures perfectly the moment of love when the two fall in love for the first time.
Anderson’s film unfolds meticulously in every scene, planned and executed, reflecting the careful care the subject Woodcock puts into the design of his dresses. Though the film’s pace is slow, the film is no less compelling. The audience is kept on their toes from start to finish. One cannot predict what raw emotion will unfold next, whether Woodcock would blow up or be pleased. The best example is the segment in which Alma empties the Woodcock house so that she can prepare dinner for with with just the two of them. When Cyril advises against it, Alma still goes ahead. The suspense on how the evening will go, makes the film’s mosts suspenseful moment. Anderson uses closeups frequently as well as piano playing on the soundtrack to heighten the tension in a scene.
PHANTOM THREAD marks Anderson’s best movie along with THERE WILL BE BLOOD, also incidentally starring Daniel Day-Lewis.