When a superb actor like Daniel Day-Lewis announces that his current film, “Phantom Thread”, will be his last, you can be sure that all those who admire him as one of the finest actors of his generation will flock to see it. And hope that his retirement will be similar to that of Barbra Streisand, in that he will return periodically, as she does, to take part in an event or production that tickles his fancy.
In “Phantom Thread” Day-Lewis dominates the film as Reynolds Woodcock, an obsessive fashion designer in 1950s London, where his high-society clients wait in day-long lines to be fitted, charmed, and kissed on both cheeks by this formidable gentleman.
He, in turn, is haunted by the memory of his mother, who treated him like a potential messiah and taught him the intricacies of designing and sewing unique costumes for women who are wealthy enough to afford them.
Woodcock works in a fashionable townhouse with a warren of tiny rooms and a winding staircase that rises for four floors to his private living quarters. His sister Cecily (Lesley Manville) also lives there, supervising the workforce of matronly seamstresses who actually put the dresses together. She works in tandem with a stern, rigid martinet (Camilla Rutherford) who shares Woodcock’s belief in strict adherence to the rules that he sets out. Both these women join Woodcock for meals and adhere to his insistence on a complete quiet, which is one of his quirky demands.
One day, quite to his surprise, he becomes intrigued by a waitress in a local diner (Vicky Krieps) and asks her out for dinner. Following dinner he invites her to his home, not to seduce her, but to have her model one of the dresses he is designing. Deciding that she has the perfect body for his clothes, he invites her to become one of his models, and she moves into his house and becomes a part of his entourage.
While she quickly falls in love with him, and he is obviously fond of her, he does not change his attitudes or behavior and criticizes and admonishes her for every move she makes that violates his intractable rules. In fact, he treats her as harshly and insensitively as he does everyone else in his excessively restricted life.
She is a gentle and nurturing soul who eventually wins his love, for a time, by deliberately poisoning him and then nursing him back to health. He is overwhelmed by her devotion, but that isn’t the end of the story.
Even though it’s set in a relatively recent time, this beautifully rendered film is a “period” piece, moving as slowly as a film would if it were set in an earlier century. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, this memorable film has already won many awards and is one of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture. Your mind, however, will remain forever blown away by the incredible performance of Daniel Day-Lewis. I hope his retirement is a happy one. But even playing an intense, angry, self-absorbed, crotchety old man, WE WILL MISS HIM!
“Phantom Thread” opened in Los Angeles in late December and is now playing in a theater near you.