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Review: Daniel Day-Lewis bows out with artfully stitched Phantom Thread

PUBLISHED: 14:42 02 February 2018 | UPDATED: 14:57 02 February 2018

Vicky Krieps as Alma and Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock� in Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread. Photo: Focus Features/Universal Pictures/Laurie Sparham

Vicky Krieps as Alma and Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock� in Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread. Photo: Focus Features/Universal Pictures/Laurie Sparham

Focus Features/Universal Pictures/Laurie Sparham

Daniel Day-Lewis wears success like an impeccably tailored suit as he delivers his final screen performance as a perfectionist dressmaker in Paul Thomas Anderson’s drama, which is set in the salons of 1950s London.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock and Lesley Manville as Cyril in Phantom Thread. Photo: Focus Features/Universal Pictures/Laurie SparhamDaniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock and Lesley Manville as Cyril in Phantom Thread. Photo: Focus Features/Universal Pictures/Laurie Sparham

Phantom Thread (15)

****

Writer and millionaire are professions in which reclusive is quite an easy and appropriate stance to pull off; actor less so. But in the 21st century, a new screen performance by Daniel Day-Lewis has become an event of such scarcity and reverence, accompanied by much pomp and circumstance, they are like state visits by a distant and benign monarch.

In Team America there was an ongoing joke about Alec Baldwin always being spoken of in awed tones as “The World’s Greatest Actor,” but Day-Lewis has made the joke a reality. Every performance comes with stifling levels of expectancy, but especially this one as it is to be his final one. It should all have become ridiculously overwrought by now, but he wears the crown lightly.

He’s going out playing a difficult and demanding perfectionist: so at least he got to ease up on the method acting this time.

Reynolds Woodcock is a society dressmaker, working away in his house in London’s Fitzroy Square surrounded by seamstresses, all watched over by his trusted collaborator/strong arm enforcer Cyril (Manville).

Lesley Manville as Cyril in Pantom Thread. Photo: Focus Features/Universal Pictures/Laurie SparhamLesley Manville as Cyril in Pantom Thread. Photo: Focus Features/Universal Pictures/Laurie Sparham

A confirmed bachelor fixated on his dead mother, he finds a slither of space in his life for a succession of glamorous young lover/model/muses, before he gets Cyril to move them on when he tires of the sound they make when they eat breakfast.

The latest of these is Alma (Vicky Krieps) who is up for a power struggle, and determined to force her way into a permanent role in the artist’s life.

Next to his major 21st-century performances (Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, Lincoln) Woodcock is a comparatively restrained turn, but every bit as compelling. He’s like a Brian Sewell with lizard DNA; quiet furies lurk behind his softly spoken refinement.

In his previous films he has tended to dominate, but here he doesn’t overwhelm the two co-stars; there are moments when your attention is drawn away from him. The film wouldn’t make sense if we didn’t believe the two ladies didn’t have the capacity to stand up to him.

Intriguingly, from certain angles Kriep’s bone structure makes her look like Paul Dano, his co-star in There Will Be Blood.

Phantom Thread is low key, restrained and surprisingly funny. There is something elusive about it. The story seems straightforward but it doesn’t reveal its major themes till the last quarter. It’s a tiny little thing really: apart from a few days out at the seaside and a couple of social engagements, it spends the entire two hours cooped up in the house.

Vicky Krieps as Alma in Phantom Thread. Photo: Focus Features/Universal Pictures/Laurie SparhamVicky Krieps as Alma in Phantom Thread. Photo: Focus Features/Universal Pictures/Laurie Sparham

The house is usually bright and white but it’s such a rarefied atmosphere, and so fiercely contained that it seems removed from the outside world, with everybody fully engaged in making frocks for worthless society ladies to feel trapped in.

Since Magnolia, I have at times thought Paul Thomas Anderson to be stuck doing something similar, devoting himself to making beautiful but increasingly insular projects that perpetuate his reputation but avoid having to try and engage with a wider audience.

Seen from some angles Phantom Thread could appear slight and flimsy but within its genteel surrounds there lurks something robust and forceful.

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