Phantom Thread by the American director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood (2007) and Inherent Vice (2014)) will be actor Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film ever, like he announced in 2017. He reached the age 60 of and after winning 3 Oscars for Best Actor (My Left food (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007) and Lincoln (2012)), he now throws in the towel. One of Britain’s most acclaimed actors decided to retire from acting, in order to focus on his private life and his career as a shoemaker. Therefore, the costume drama Phantom Thread needs that little bit of extra attention.
The story is set in London in the 1950’s, where the life of the renowned and genius dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is disrupted when he meets the young Alma (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his muse and lover. Reynolds is a narcissist and control freak -with mommy issues on top of it- not only in his work, but also when it comes to the people he loves, he only settles for perfection. The breakfast scenes are sometimes simply funny, because he demands absolute silence and peace, so the sound of a toast getting buttered could already make him cranky for the rest of the day.
Phantom Thread looks like a simple love story at the beginning, but soon enough evolves in a fascinating power struggle between the 2 lovers. Their relationship seems to be based on ‘repel and attract’, where Reynolds’ male dominance gets challenged by Alma’s female charm, wit and persistence. In my opinion, Phantom Thread is about the male ego giving itself over to the power of the women who rule his life; who in this case are Reynolds’s lover Alma and his beloved sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). He never argues with the latter, because he knows he will lose.
Daniel Day-Lewis is known as a method actor, which is also the case in Phantom Thread. As preparation for his part as Reynolds Woodcock, he worked with a dressmaker for months before shooting. This can be seen on the screen, because his hands are full of hard skin. These months of mental preparation turn him into a purebred and tormented artist. The female lead is Vicky Krieps, who is an actress from Luxembourg and rather unknown, but her performance isn’t overshadowed by Day-Lewis at all. Her acting is rather modest, but still powerful and unpredictable. Alma is the woman who manages to push Reynolds from his pedestal and it’s unimaginable for an alpha male like him, but he actually is attracted to her pushing him over. Although he is afraid of losing his controlled and planned life, he finds himself overwhelmed by love.
Phantom Thread is nominated for 6 Oscars, for Best Achievement in Costume Design for Mark Bridges for instance and there is another nomination for Daniel Day-Lewis as Best Actor in a Leading Role. Imagine him winning another Oscar, then he will be the very first actor ever to win 4 Oscars in this category.
To close this article, I’d like to point out that it is very remarkable that Paul Thomas Anderson did his own cinematography for Phantom Thread although he never refers to himself as the Director of Photography and he is uncredited as such. He rather calls the film’s photography a close collaboration with his gaffer Michael Bauman and camera operator Colin Anderson, which after months of experimenting definitely resulted in a magnificent cinematic style.
To conclude, Phantom Thread is a skillful movie when it comes to decors, costumes and also cinematography. But the biggest strength definitely lies in its scenario and the acting performances of both Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps.
And as an extra, you can watch this YouTube-clip with an overview of Daniel Day-Lewis’ top 10 acting performances.