Undressing a mad genius

Daniel Day-Lewis plays a popular fashion designer in 1950s London in Phantom Thread.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays a popular fashion designer in 1950s London in Phantom Thread. PHOTO: UIP

Phantom Thread weaves an intimate character study of a famous fashion designer and his controlling nature

REVIEW / DRAMA

PHANTOM THREAD (NC16)

131 minutes/Opens today/ 5 stars

The story: Celebrated fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a man whose genius is matched only by his love for having a firm grip on every aspect of his life, including his lovers. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) takes care of the day-to-day business in his London apartment, which doubles as his studio. He falls in love with waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps), but inevitably, the relationship falters once she gets a taste of his controlling nature.

A few months ago, Darren Aronofsky's Mother! (2017) explored the ruination that happens when creative genius, especially male genius, is worshipped. By coincidence, this movie takes up the same theme.

But in a style typical of writerdirector Paul Thomas Anderson, this study of egomania is detailed and intimate, in contrast to Aronofsky's operatic manner.

Anderson loves his freaks, monsters and outcasts, each of whom amplify a single human trait to outlandish levels. In The Master (2012), a misfit falls in with a charismatic cult leader, and in the multiple-Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood (2007), Day-Lewis plays an oil baron with a singular will to succeed.

The actor is once again paired with Anderson (both have earned nods for Best Actor and Best Director). Reynolds is the toast of 1950s London, a man whose one-of-a-kind creations are the result of a kind of madness.

What begins as a character study of one man and his suffocating household grows to include Alma (Krieps), and a relationship movie emerges. It is one that carries a third-act twist, Anderson's way of saying that love is love, no matter how odd its outer form might appear.

The pace is stately and the visuals are lush, pushed along nicely by the neo-classical music score of frequent Anderson collaborator Jonny Greenwood (two of the film's six Oscar nominations are for Original Score and Costume Design).

In a brilliant example of character exposition that uses almost no dialogue, Reynolds and his sister Cyril have breakfast Woodcock-style - never have tea and toast looked so forbidding.

Cyril is a stern figure given a terrifying life by Manville. She is the authoritarian abbess of the Woodcock monastery and Manville fully deserves her Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a woman for whom the British stiff upper lip is not just a saying - it is a religion.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'Undressing a mad genius'. Print Edition | Subscribe