Review / ‘Phantom Thread’ (M) *** and a half

A TRIFECTA for Paul Thomas Anderson – writer, director, cinematographer. With an estimated $US35 million budget, “Phantom Thread”, his eighth feature, has gathered a sextet of Oscar nominations. But its box office takings to the end of last month total only $US11.388 million.

The enigmatic title leads to the esoteric world of couture. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, dressmaker to the rich and noble, although not necessarily famous. In an atelier on the top floor of his London home, a team of seamstresses ply their skills turning his designs into gowns all by hand – not a sewing machine to be seen.

Reynolds is a bachelor of strong, some might say finicky, habits that his business partner and sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, OBE and Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee) endures patiently.

Stopping for a meal while driving to a weekend at the pair’s country house, Reynolds is gobsmacked by a waitress. She isn’t averse to his approach. Very soon she’s ensconced in his house, learning about managing a couture house, keeping Reynolds at arm’s length, not difficult because he’s so focused on his work and the habits of a lifetime that he doesn’t have time for bedroom delights.

Alma (Vicky Krieps) knows opportunity when she sees it. And she is quick to plot a course to her desired outcome. The plot evolves into the resolution of the relationship between three strong characters and a business dependent on women with access to wealth. Anderson’s writing of those interactions is masterly, as much for its observations of personality and character as for its manipulation of situations and issues. The dialogue is sharp and intelligent. He deftly introduces a variety of minor participants, clients of Woodcock ranging from European royalty to an unattractive heiress desperate to find a husband interested in her more than her money.

“Phantom Thread” runs for 130 minutes, time that observers of the human condition may well consider well spent.

At Dendy, Capitol 6 and Palace Electric

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