PHANTOM THREAD is a Study in Nuanced Idiosyncratic Artistic Obsession

Where does one begin when reviewing a cinematic orchestral movement? I fear my critiquing will not do PHANTOM THREAD justice. The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson, in collaboration with Daniel Day Lewis in his final role before retirement, ventures into period fashion with the deft stroke of genius only capable in a collaboration from these two master craftsmen. PHANTOM THREAD is out now from the fine folks at Universal Pictures Australia, it is rated M and runs for 130mins.


Phantom Thread Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day Lewis image
Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day Lewis




Set in the glamour of 1950’s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.


Phantom Thread Daniel Day Lewis image
Daniel Day Lewis



If Michael Bay movies, or Tom Cruise action movies, are your preferred genre you may want to skip this one. This is a movie made with so much care, attention to detail, and next level nuance that it may appear incredibly slow and uneventful to the majority of the cinema popcorn munchers. This isn’t made for box office results, it’s made for the sake of making art.

Paul Thomas Anderson makes multi-layered emotive movies where the main protagonist is flawed. From Dick, I mean Dirk, Diggler in BOOGIE NIGHTS, to the aforementioned Tom Cruise in MAGNOLIA, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, THE MASTER, INHERENT VICE (I loathed that movie haha), Anderson’s movies are all character driven with incredibly complex, and somewhat realistic, lives and difficulties. PHANTOM THREAD is more of an insular movie as their lives are somewhat closed in their own society, or as some less refined people may say, up their own asses, but it does follow the Anderson movie formula. PHANTOM THREAD delves into the psyche of a man flawed by his obsession with his art, like so many other artistic savants of time passed.

Everything in the Woodcock household revolves around the wound-too-tight, way up his own butt Woodcock (Lewis). Societal etiquette and a routine so refined it is almost psychotic is the life of Woodcok and all in his inner circle. But it’s watching these idiosyncrasies of a perfectionist savant artist that make PHANTOM THREAD the marvel that it is.

The movie is written by Anderson in collaboration with Lewis and there is no one on the planet that could play this character besides Daniel Day Lewis. He got so deep into character for this movie and it effected him so heavily he literally resigned from acting after it.


Phantom Thread Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day Lewis image
Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day Lewis



A lot of musicians announce their retirement and are back for another final tour a few years later. Daniel Day Lewis is like the Yoda of acting, if he says it’s over following PHANTOM THREAD, then he is finished. He remains in character for the entirety of a shoot, diving so deep into his role, that it can’t help but mess with your mind. His preparation for character is always at master level.

In preparation for the film, Lewis watched archival footage of 1940s and 1950s fashion shows, studied famous designers, consulted with the curator of fashion and textiles at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and apprenticed under Marc Happel, head of the costume department at the New York City Ballet. He also learned how to sew, and he practiced on his wife Rebecca Miller, trying to recreate a Balenciaga sheath dress that was inspired by a school uniform. The character of Woodcock is inspired by the life and work of Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga.

Is this Lewis’s best role? I do not think so, but I do think it is his most nuanced. Every frame of his performance tells you something, from the slight corner raise of an eyebrow to the little twitch or raise of the oral commissure (aka the corner of the mouth – I’m so smart). If you think Meryl Streep can act only with her eyes, Lewis can act solely with his aura and eyes closed, a true Jedi.


Phantom Thread Daniel Day Lewis image
Daniel Day Lewis



Equally matched to Lewis is Lesley Manville, she lit up the screen in every scene. Her strength as a character and actor provided abundant dark comic relief and a perfectly cast equal to Lewis. Her line “Don’t pick a fight with me, you certainly won’t come out alive. I’ll go right through you and it’ll be you who ends up on the floor. Understood?” was a critic screening clap worthy moment of hysterical laughter.

Vicky Krieps was a unique choice in casting, she didn’t fit the character for me personally and was overshadowed by Lewis and Manville in every scene, but this still makes her one of the best supporting actors of 2018.


Further to the lead cast it should be known that all of those seamstresses in house Woodcock are not actors, they are genuine seaming legends, a few of them are retired but all of them are professionals.

On top of everything else that is marvellous in what I predict will win best picture at the upcoming Academy Awards the cinematography and the score need to be applauded. Anderson did most of the cinematography himself with a lot of help from camera operators and gaffers. The use of long takes and silence filled the Woodcock house with more soul than could be created with dialogue.

And 90mins of Jonny Greenwood’s score are used during the 130min runtime of PHANTOM THREAD. His score is as emotive as the lead characters driving the narrative and heart of the movie flawlessly. Greenwood says he was influenced by the works of Nelson Riddle and Glenn Gould from the 50’s for those that are interested.


Phantom Thread Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day Lewis image
Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day Lewis



PHANTOM THREAD is to cinema as the finest haute couture creations of history are to the catwalk, paired with a bottle of 1893 Veuve Clicquot, the champagne equivalent of Daniel Day Lewis. This movie will not be for everyone but if you like your nuanced period dramas where a blink is by design then this movie is for you. PHANTOM THREAD is a perfect study in nuanced idiosyncratic artistic obsession that demands a viewing.





 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.