BWW Review: PHANTOM THREAD at Palace Nova Cinemas

BWW Review: PHANTOM THREAD at Palace Nova Cinemas

Reviewed by Libby Drake, Saturday 3rd February 2018

Phantom Thread is a drama/romance about the relationship between an older, successful man and his younger muse.

In 1950's London, Reynolds Woodcock is a high-end dressmaker, with nobility, royalty and the very wealthy as his customers. He is fastidious and high maintenance. His sister, Cyril, runs not only his business but also his personal life. When Reynolds' current live-in muse no longer amuses, Cyril packs Reynolds off to their country house for a break, and she removes the woman. In a country restaurant, he meets the young Alma, who quickly becomes his companion and new inspiration.

In the Woodcock household, there are unwritten rules about how life should be conducted, which generally means pandering to Reynolds. Breakfast must be conducted to minimise any noise or conversation, otherwise, he will be unsettled for the rest of the day. "I can't begin my day with confrontation", he says. The film follows the development of the relationships between the three characters, but focuses squarely on Reynolds and his new muse, Alma.

The performances of all three actors are outstanding. Vicky Krieps plays Alma, a woman whose life as a waitress is dramatically changed by her chance meeting with Reynolds. While at first presenting as shy and quiet we soon find that underneath she is a strong character and stands up to Reynolds, and anyone else, when she thinks it necessary.

Daniel Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock and he delivers the high level of intense performance that we have come to expect from him. He is a staunch method actor and, for this film, Krieps needed to adapt to his style. Day-Lewis would not meet with her prior to their first scene together, which is where they meet for the first time. Krieps was so nervous about meeting him that she tripped and blushed when entering the room, all of which was captured on film.

Reynold's sister Cyril is played by Lesley Manville. It seems that Cyril has dedicated her life to her brother's business, a role she goes about with quiet, assertive efficiency. There is certainly a touch of Mrs Danvers about her.

Phantom Thread was both written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, whose previous writing and directing credits include There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, and Magnolia. Some of the directorial elements of the film are outstanding. It's funny how noises made by those closest to us, such as the crunching of toast, can be irritating in the extreme. Anderson captures these moments brilliantly, using exaggerated sound, and we see Reynolds' building irritation with Alma.

Overall, however, Phantom Thread does not fulfil its potential. The first half of the film focusses on the developing relationship and on the dressmaking business. About half-way through there is a twist that makes us sit up and wonder about this change in direction. Then towards the end, there is another interesting change which also grabs our attention; but then it quickly wraps up and left me, for one, wondering what was the point in making this film. When it was over I found it quite unsatisfying; it lacked truth but, more importantly, it lacked a care factor. On reflection, I think this is because the characters are quite empty, shallow and not very likeable. The lack of back-story for each character also contributes to their shallowness.

The camera work at the start is so obtrusive that it becomes distracting. Fortunately, this settles down after a while. At times it seems as if it was shot through a scrim, reducing picture resolution, which is also distracting as there is no obvious reason for it.

Phantom Thread is slow moving but generally maintains interest. Although there are excellent performances and other extremely good aspects of the film, the lack of credibility towards the end detracts from everything that has come before it.

Phantom Thread is currently screening at Palace Nova Eastend Cinema and at the fabulous new Palace Nova Prospect Cinema.

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