A sumptuous, beautifully crafted and in the end rather perverse film about a fascinating relationship with the shades of Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Phantom Thread is also a grand (and supposedly final) showcase for Daniel Day-Lewis’ monumental acting talent. Hopefully he’s just taking a break, with more farewell tours to follow.
Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a famous fashion designer in 1950s London with the impeccable high-society clientele that stretches all the way to royalty. A confirmed bachelor, he’s also the kind of tyrannical detail-obsessed auteur whose life consists of strict daily rites and creative routines, which are supported by his devoted and seemingly icy sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) and an army of female employees. Not that he lacks the intimate company of beautiful young women, who tend to be quietly ushered out when he either gets tired of them or they demand too much of his time and attention.
One such romantic liaison is disposed of early in the film, with the next conquest presenting itself in the shape of Alma (Vicky Krieps), a luminously beautiful, soft-spoken waitress Woodcock meets while getting breakfast out in the country. At first Alma seems to be the next pretty creature in line to be molded by Woodcock into a model-slash-muse-slash-pliant companion, but she proves to be more strong-willed and quietly rebellious than anticipated.
There are some gothic-y twists and turns to the story, but the film is more concerned with mood and tone, luxuriating in its claustrophobic, coolly elegant interiors and beautiful exquisite textures (appropriately for the film set in the fashion world, every frame looks like it could belong in Vogue). I’m going to be a heretic and say that, for all his undeniable talent, Daniel Day-Lewis can be a bit hit-and-miss for me; sometimes he has me captivated with the way he disappears into a character, and other times his performances leave me with a cold mechanical feeling of having watched a lot of Acting rather than a real person. Phantom Thread is decidedly the former; if Day-Lewis’ retirement is in fact final, Woodcock is a great swansong and an acting masterclass. Vicky Krieps matches Day-Lewis scene by scene, as Alma’s game of wills takes a more manipulative and sinister turn. Without spoiling anything, in its final stretch the film takes a gamble trusting the viewers to be onboard with a crucial reveal; to its credit, the strong character work makes it believable.
P.S. I googled Vicky Krieps and apparently she hails from Luxembourg and is a veteran of over 30 movies. I hope we see more of her in English-speaking films.