Phantom Thread - A Finely Woven Tale or Narratively Thread Bare?

Projected Film - Phantom Threat Review

Runtime: 130mins | Director: Paul Thomas Anderson | Rating: 3.5 Stars

Phantom Thread tells the story of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) - an affluent, upper class, fashion designing bachelor living in London during the 1950’s. Whilst it seems he lives a near perfect life, indulging in pastries for breakfast and socialising with countesses and princesses alike who travel far and wide to purchase his dresses, he still feels incomplete. Why? He cannot find love. Of course, such a highly regarded, charming and handsome man has no problem finding women to date, but he tires of them quickly leaving his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), to clear up the trail of romantic devastation he recurrently leaves.

After Woodcock breaks up with his latest dalliance, he decides to take a trip to the coast and clear his mind. Upon arrival, he decides to have breakfast at a picturesque seaside hotel where he meets, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who he then asks to dinner. As the story progresses Alma moves to London with Woodcock and the two begin dating. As with his past flirtations, Woodcock soon tires of Alma though and their relationship becomes strained. Unlike past women who endured Woodcock’s insufferable stubbornness and crumbled though, Alma is made of sturdier stuff resulting in the two engaging in a battle of wills.

Like the dresses Woodcock makes out of beautiful silks and rare laces, Phantom Thread has many layers to it. On the surface, it is a love story wrought with friction. Woodcock craves female adoration, but once he has had his fill, he is quick to get rid of the women providing him with it – essentially, he sees them as toys to be played with when he wants, and non-existent when he doesn’t. Similarly, when they do fall in love with him (which, of course, they always do) they can only have his affection and attention when he’s gracious enough to give it – after all, in his mind, they’re the fortunate ones to be spared any of his time which really ought to be spent on his precious dresses. Unfortunately for him, however, Alma has no intention of suffering his petulance quietly. In fact, Alma does very little quietly which is part of the reason Woodcock starts to tire of her. This is amusingly shown over a scene at breakfast where Woodcock is sat at the breakfast table sketching dress concepts quietly. Alma then enters the room, sits down, and starts making every noise possible resulting in him losing his temper and storming out the room, sulking.

Whilst the theme of love is important in Phantom Thread, for me, it said a lot more about obsession, and in many ways, it reminded me of Damien Chazelle’s, Whiplash. Like Andrew Neiman, Woodcock is obsessed with striving for perfection, and until he reaches it, he’ll never rest. Similarly, like Andrew ends his relationship in Whiplash because he fears it will get in the way of his drumming, Woodcock too can’t sustain relationships as he views them as inferior to his true passion – his dresses. This comparison can also be made to Alma who becomes obsessed with winning the affection of Woodcock by any means necessary. Not only that, but she too becomes obsessed with his dresses leading her to help Woodcock steal one back from a client who “didn’t deserve it”. As obsession is such an instrumental theme in Phantom Thread, it also made me laugh how perfect the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis was given the notorious perfection he has strived for throughout his career himself.

Despite his unending quest for perfection though, Phantom Thread, unfortunately, is not the swansong for his career that I had hoped it would be. Whilst still a good film, it does begin to drag, and by the end, feels stale. Fortunately, due to his ever-reliable acting and a phenomenal performance from newcomer, Vicky Krieps (who in my opinion outshines Day-Lewis) it was still engaging enough to stop me losing interest. Despite this, I can’t help having a lingering resentment that such a phenomenal actor will (supposedly) end his career on such an underwhelming note…

To watch the trailer – click here

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