Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with his There Will Be Blood star Daniel Day-Lewis for this seductive story of a toxic love affair set in 1950s Britain
We are told all we need to know about Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) within the opening scenes of Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread. As we watch him dress and prepare for the day we see how meticulous and studied he is, and when his attempt to work at the breakfast table is interrupted by the current woman in his life, we know that she will soon be despatched by his no-nonsense sister and confidante Cyril (Lesley Manville). Nothing can stand in the way of Reynolds' work as a dressmaker to the rich and famous in 50s London.
Like many artists, Reynolds requires a particular environment and set of conditions in order to create, including a muse. When he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) – a young and slightly ungainly waitress – something inside Reynolds clicks, and he brings her into his home, as a lover but primarily as a model. Alma is no quiet mannequin, however. “If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose,” she tells him; an early indication of the many ways she will challenge him.
With its status as his final film, it would have been easy for Phantom Thread to become the Daniel Day-Lewis show – particularly as it seems to comment on the toll of his own pursuit of artistic perfection – but he generously cedes ground to Krieps and Manville, both of whom are impeccable. In fact, Alma emerges as the film's most compelling protagonist, thrillingly upending the familiar artist-muse dynamic.
Phantom Thread is an exploration of a toxic and perversely co-dependent love story, but the filmmaking is so brisk, elegant, witty and surprising. It's a captivating experience. Anderson has continued to evolve and confound expectations with every film, and with Phantom Thread – his first picture outside his native California – he has outdone himself again. This is his most disciplined and refined work to date, and it's among his very best.
Released by Paramount Pictures