Phantom Thread | Kilburnlad | Film | Reviews


Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread

This film didn't appear at our Cineworld on its release, so we had to wait for the DVD. Helen has a keen interest in couture and we both recognise the brilliance of Daniel Day-Lewis in the way he completely inhabits the characters that he plays. Added to this were some extremely strong reviews, although it probably wouldn't be to everybody's taste.

Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, who in 1954 London creates haute-couture for the select few who can afford it. A perfectionist, he is fastidious and totally absorbed in his craft as he manages The House of Woodcock. He is helped by his sister, Cyril, who often acts as a mediator at times of his peak irascibility. It seems that women pass through his life, providing inspiration and companionship, but he remains a confirmed bachelor, believing that marriage would inhibit his creativity.

Things change when he meets Alma, a waitress at a seaside hotel. At first we may think that they already know each other, as he orders a breakfast seemingly comprising everything that's on the menu. But this is a first meeting and, to ensure authenticity, the actress Vicky Krieps was required, at Day-Lewis's insistence, not to make face-to-face contact with him before the scene was shot. The result is something quite surreal and a superb piece of acting.

Alma becomes what I suppose one could call his latest muse, for whom he designs magnificent couture dresses. But when he is his often irascible self, we see that Alma is not so easy to intimidate. And so their relationship develops from artist and muse to something more intimate. But Reynolds is starting to worry about the effect of the relationship on his work and, sensing his growing coldness, Alma needs to do something to capture his heart. Her strategy is, to say the least, extreme, but it works, and despite all his previous inhibitions, they marry.

Of course, it isn't a smooth road to happiness, and before long the cracks start to appear. This causes Alma once again to resort to her rather special form of control, leading to a final sequence in which Reynolds effectively submits to her will.

Between these brief lines summarising the plot, there is of course a lot more going on. The three-way relationship between Reynolds, his sister and Alma, for example, is quite fascinating. The attention to the detail of the haute-couture world, with Day-Lewis having prepared himself by learning and practising the skills, and with real non-actor seamstresses playing their eponymous parts. Then there's the 'presence' of Reynolds deceased mother, who taught him his craft, and the secret messages that are sewn into the garments. It is a truly fascinating film and one that perhaps deserves more than a single viewing.

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