For many years, Daniel Day-Lewis has been Hollywood’s most bankable British star. From tense biopic Lincoln to epic drama There Will Be Blood, his meticulously researched performances have won three Oscars and near-universal acclaim. Now aged 60, the passion has faded and he’s decided to retire from acting. Phantom Thread will be his last role.
Set in 1950s London, the film follows Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), a renowned dressmaker whose carefully ordered lifestyle is disrupted by a sudden romance. While on holiday in the country, he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young, strong-willed waitress, who quickly becomes his muse and lover. He whisks her off to the city and resumes his work, under the watchful eye of sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). But as she grows in confidence, Alma begins to question her position in the household and tries to make her beloved change his fussy ways. At first he won’t, but when the dynamic of their relationship shifts, Reynolds realises his quiet ingénue is much stronger than she seems.
Deeply visual and intensely detailed, this is a film for art lovers. Director Paul Thomas Anderson has made a career out of crafting rich worlds and Phantom Thread is no different. Soporific seaside vistas give way to lavish townhouses, while Jonny Greenwood’s breathtaking score adds heft and grandeur. The performances are absorbing but not showy. Day-Lewis’s talent has never been in blowing actors off sets. It’s his ability to disappear behind a character that’s special, making you forget he’s even there. He’s matched note for note by Krieps, a relative unknown. Alma might let Reynolds take the lead, but she’s no passive partner. When these two face off onscreen it’s as electric as any thriller. Of course, some will moan about the slow pace and lack of action. But with a little patience, Phantom Thread serves as the perfect send-off for one of cinema’s greatest talents.