John P. Harvey
John is a well-established film and play critic. He has penned reviews (somewhere over 160 reviews of stage performances) for Stage Whispers since 2005, and occasionally writes for BMA magazine.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread offers a steady-paced partial revelation of the increasingly evident strangeness in the relationship between a self-absorbed dress designer, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis); his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville); and his latest conquest, Alma (Vicky Krieps).
Day-Lewis’s character, Woodcock, is, as ever, a complex one, in this case intriguing and compelling but untouchable. His design and dressmaking standards are high indeed, but characterise a general rigidity of character that his sister has till now indulged. Nonetheless, the success of his dress-design house, with its staff of a dozen highly skilled dressmakers, shows in his upper-crust clientele. The house itself (along with the film’s several other chief venues) is sumptuous; perfect cinematography, with a natural vibrancy, adds visual variety and interest without intruding into the viewer’s awareness.
At two hours ten minutes, the movie is a good length; relatively quiet, it nonetheless holds your attention throughout by its visual richness, arresting acting, and subtle intrigues concerning its characters’ inner lives. And, delightfully, it exhibited remarkable authenticity, from social behaviour, language, and modes of dress to such details as the dinnerware and menus. Most remarkable of all was its attention to detail in portraying the techniques that premium dressmakers use, including using tapes and bindings to ensure that hems, linings, fastenings, and collars stayed where they belonged, protecting the fabrics with large sheets of clean paper, and folding them just so in order to preserve their shape.
Some enigmas remaining unanswered, a sequel — despite Day-Lewis’s avowed intent to finish his film career on this film — could easily take the tale further.
Seen at Palace Electric Cinema, Canberra