Phantom Thread hits its stride in costuming and set, but ultimately leaves something to be desired

Photo: Focus Features

Late last year Daniel Day Lewis announced his retirement from acting, with his final film being Phantom Thread, a twisted fairy-tale following the oedipal love story of 1950s fashion house designer Reynolds Woodcock and a young waitress. His character is the epitome of classic genius, perpetually focussed on a bizarre routine and tortured by any disruption to it. Director Paul Thomas Anderson starkly contrasts the acquiescent manner of Woodcock’s sister, Cyril, against the strong-willed, contrary opinions of his new muse and lover.

While the scenography gives airs of an aesthetically pleasing film, the dialogue and its manifestation in expression is unnatural and uncomfortable to watch. The director uses close-ups in silence to concentrate on emotion or the lasting effects of something said: however the immobility of facial features leaves something to be desired. Even if such inertia is a stylistic choice in insinuating the absurdity of Woodcock’s life and the complacency of the women who surround him, this device is not used in a satisfying way.

The film follows, thankfully, a progression to a more egalitarian existence of the men and women within the Woodcock Fashion House, between designer, sister and muse. However, distinctions in power plays became hazy towards the end of the film and determining the source of control in each relationship is difficult. Perhaps this predicts, in a sense, the kind of equality we might achieve in some near future.

There is no denying the brilliance of costume and set, which pervade the still silences and awkward piano to warmly immerse the audience in 1950s fashionable London. It is still difficult to be swept away by the peculiar relationship between the protagonists. Ultimately, Phantom Thread will disturb you in all aspects of romantic dependence and sadistic love.