Susan Granger’s review of “Phantom Thread” (Focus Features/Annapurna Pictures)
Daniel Day-Lewis is one of our finest actors; each performance is precisely researched, resulting in absolute authenticity.
Here, he plays eccentric, self-absorbed Reynolds Woodcock, a discerning British fashion designer. In the 1950s, lavish haute couture was revered by rich women and royalty, along with the couturiers.
Impeccably groomed, imperious Woodcock demands that his elegant London townhouse home/office revolves around his craftsmanship and whims. Breakfast is silent: no crunching toast or idle chatter.
Woodcock’s domineering perfectionism is supported by his omnipresent spinster sister/business partner Cyril (Lesley Manville), who dismisses his mistresses when he tires of them.
When he spies a young waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps), in a countryside cafe, Woodcock impulsively decides she will be his new muse/model, proclaiming her broad shoulders, small breasts and belly are “perfect.”
So Alma moves into his hermetic existence, proud to have the strength and stamina to stand quietly for hours while he meticulously uses her lithe body to fit gorgeous gowns, often stitching secret embroidered messages into the fabric’s lining.
She explains, “Reynolds has made my dreams come true. And I have given him what he desires most in return: every piece of me.”
But, soon, her passive/aggressive presence becomes increasingly disruptive within the House of Woodcock. Which leads to an overt, psychopathic twist, even as Woodcock, who is haunted by the memory of his mother, indulges in a petulant, jealous pique when a longtime patron buys from a rival.
It’s all about a tortured, misogynistic artist who puts his creativity above all else, psychologically controlling and abusing those around him, following the same idiosyncratic theme as Darren Aronofsky’s ill-fated “Mother!”
Auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” “The Master,” “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia”) has crafted a bizarrely superficial Gothic romance, paying sinister homage to Alfred Hitchcock, whose wife’s name was Alma.
Woodcock’s character was inspired by monastic Cristobal Balenciaga and Charles James, who was known to punish misbehaving couture clients. And kudos to production designer Mark Tildesley, costumer Mark Bridges, and music by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Phantom Thread” is a strange, shallow 6 – despite charismatic Daniel Day-Lewis’s immersive performance.