If Daniel Day-Lewis is genuinely going to make good on his recent retirement announcement, he couldn’t have picked a better swansong than Phantom Thread.
Along with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, he has made an event movie for cineastes, the sort of intricate, beautifully layered work of art that makes a virtue of its inherent strangeness and serves as a testament to its own high-minded ambitions while proving as deliciously sinister and compelling as any Hitchcock mystery.
Set in London in the 1950s, the film stars Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, a fastidious and cerebrated couturier whose dominance of the fashion world may soon be drawing to a close in an era of made-to-order chicness.
A man of rigorous routine, his closest confident is his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, wonderfully prickly). Cyril lets his clientele, his admirers, even the women he shares his life with get close enough to boost his ego, but not so close as to encroach on his all encompassing work. When they do, his sister is the one charged with dispatching them.
As the film opens, Cyril is instructed to do just that by Reynolds, who takes himself off to the countryside to recover. There, to his surprise, he promptly falls for Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young waitress of German extraction working at the provincial hotel in which he’s chosen to have breakfast.
But as she moves into his London abode, a battle of wills ensues almost immediately. Alma is warned repeatedly by Cyril to respect her brother’s routines, and yet, in a wonderful display of childlike impudence, Alma refuses to play by the Woodcocks’ rules, as if intuitively sensing in Reynolds’s behaviour an unspoken invitation to spar with him. She prods and provoke him, which in due course encourages Cyril to subtly re-assert her own power over her brother.
Though this sets the scene for an intense rivalry between Cyril and Alma, this never goes in quite the direction one might expect. And the relationship between all three becomes more twisted and more intriguing.
The end result is an incredible, brilliantly acted portrait of a destructive relationship in which the destructive parts might be what make it thrive.
On general release