Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is a lush psychosexual drama starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a pampered, tyrannical, pernickety 1950s couturier whose life is disrupted when he falls for a waitress who, in the most unexpected way, proves his match. It is a wonderfully fixating film in every respect, and wholly non-formulaic. And it miraculously transforms an addition to a breakfast order — ‘…and sausages’ — into one of the sexiest things ever said. Ultimately, its meaning will be open to interpretation. I saw it as the rather timely story of a man who is finally forced to cut out his misogynist heart and see women as real people, but your interpretation may differ, which is fine, even though I’m bound to be right. Still, it is sweet of you to keep trying.
Day-Lewis, who has been Oscar-nominated, plays ‘Reynolds Woodcock’ which, satisfyingly, sounds like one of those porn names you make up. He is the fêted head of ‘The House of Woodcock’, the fashion establishment that dresses royalty and aristocracy — oh, the frocks are sublime — in a Georgian townhouse in London. Here, the staff line the stairs in the morning (‘Good morning, Mr Woodcock’), while his older sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville, also Oscar-nominated), runs the practical side of the business so that he can get on with fussing over his own genius and every exquisite stitch. She is steely and gimlet-eyed and concerned solely with his needs. As we see, it is even her job to dump his girlfriends when he tires of them which, we understand, he inevitably does. Offer him a sweet pastry at breakfast when he has said ‘nothing stodgy!’ and that’s it, you’re gone. (Breakfasts are important in this film; the dresses are sublime, but the breakfasts properly matter.)
He meets Alma (Vicky Krieps, not Oscar-nominated, inexplicably, as she totally holds her own) at breakfast at the hotel where she is waitressing.