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London, 1955: The city is emerging from the hangover of World War II amid rations, rubble and smog. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II has given new life to a country short on optimism. In the center of all this is Reynolds Woodcock, a man who dresses countesses, heiresses, movie stars, and grand dames. Through his creations he can make the timid feel courageous and the unattractive feel beautiful.
Protecting him from the outside world so he can execute his rarefied designs in peace is Reynolds' (Daniel Day-Lewis) domineering sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). While Cyril has grown to wield immense power running the business side, Reynolds serves as its figurehead and creative force. In public, Cyril remains in Reynolds' shadow - but in private they are equals and enjoy a very strong bond.
Love enters the picture, in the form of Alma (Vicky Krieps), the waitress Reynolds meets during a weekend retreat, and the House of Woodcock is shaken to its core. But where Reynolds is blindsided, Alma becomes galvanized.
Set in the glamour of 1950's post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock's life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.
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Couple of comments: this is the latest oeuvre (don't just call it a movie!) from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia; There Will Be Blood, The Master, just to name those). Here he brings a love story, Paul Thomas Anderson-style of course. At first, it seems love at first sight ("I've been looking for you for a long time", admits Reynolds), but then clouds appear.... I shan't say more plot-wise. Anderson leaves us guessing from start to finish, and in that sense it is a mystery movie, but of course the movie is so much more than that. There are stretches where seemingly nothing happens (in the best possible way), and we get to enjoy the scenery and of course the performances. Daniel Day-Lewis has said that he is retiring from acting after this movie. Say it ain't so! He is masterful here as the top of a small fashion house for the rich and famous (yes, even a Belgian royal highness is seen as coming from Brussels to buy her wedding dress at the Woodcock house). But even better is Vicky Krieps, the (for me) previously unknown Luxembourg actress who reminds me of Meryl Streep era-Kramer vs. Kramer. As Alma struggles to keep up with Reynolds, yet feels strongly attached to him, she pleads with him "Whatever you do, do it carefully". Wow, just wow. With this breakthrough role, we have just seen the very beginning of what I am sure will be a long career in Hollywood. Last but certainly not least, the classical-leaning original score is absolutely fantastic, and is composed by Anderson's house composer over the last decade, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. This movie is already gathering quite a few nominations for the upcoming awards season, in particular for Anderson, Day-Lewis, and Greenwood, and deservedly so.
"Phantom Thread" finally went wide this weekend, and the Friday evening screening where I saw this at was attended very nicely I am happy to report. If you are a fan of Anderson's previous work or are simply in the mood for an exquisitely made love story that will leave you guessing until the very end, you cannot go wrong with this, be it in the theaters, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray. "Phantom Thread" is a WINNER.
Woodcock lives and works in his own 3 or 4 (who’s counting) story building with no elevator. His sister Cyril (excellent Lesley Manville) handles the business side of the business, allowing the eccentric and bizarre bachelor to just do the designs and supervise the construction of individually tailored dresses for the social elite of London. Woodcock seems to always have one model on hand for him to work with and sometimes jump in the sack with. The ladies all fall in love with the unconventional man.
Cyril knows how to corral her brother and when the pressure is on, sends him off to their rural retreat. It is there, dining alone in town he meets Alma (wonderful Luxemourg actress Vicky Krieps), a waitress. The two eye each other and Woodcock asks Alma out for dinner. But it turns out to be a bit more than dinner. No, not that. Woodcock wants to use Alma as a model to try dresses he is working on. She agrees. He takes her measurements. He and Cyril say she’s perfect. Cyril points out that her brother likes a little flab in the stomach area (I didn’t see any). Alma accompanies the siblings back to London and takes up residence. When Woodcock begins barking at Alma we see she isn’t like the other girls and stands up for herself even confronting Cyril on occasion. Their relationship is as strange as Woodcock.
This is one of those films that is at once captivating and at the same time confounding. From the beginning your eyes are drawn to the designs, the sets, the color, the lighting and the great Daniel Day-Lewis’s use of gestures and mannerisms. Anderson uses a lot of close-ups on his primary characters so the actor’s facial expressions are key elements here. As I was drawn in, I was able to ignore the lack of cohesion in the story. There is also a sharp turn in the third act that is something of a head scratcher. These aren’t critical elements to the overall quality of the film. It is beautiful to look at (Anderson did his own camera work) and there is a terrific score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. Recommended.