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Spirit In The Material World: Phantom Thread

Updated on February 22, 2018


Reynolds Woodcock was a fashion designer married to his work. Wealthy women wanted to wear his clothes especially designed for them, and the results didn't disappoint. However, Reynolds has some doubts about his own words in the period drama Phantom Thread. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Woodcock, a meticulous man who runs his business from his London home in the years following World War II. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who also never married, serves as his business assistant and adviser. She helps to make sure that the high standards that Woodcock demands are met.

After meeting a customer on business, he has breakfast at a small restaurant where Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) serves him. On impulse, Reynolds asks her on a date, and she accepts. Before long, Alma becomes Reynolds's creative muse and model, and comes to live with the Woodcock siblings. In time, Reynolds and Alma marry. With their love, though, comes the inevitable friction. While Alma respects and loves Reynolds, she wishes to be treated like a partner of some sort, and makes sure her husband gets that message in her own way.


Phantom Thread is an engaging and unusual romance, just like two of the other better films of 2017 - The Big Sick and The Shape Of Water. In the former, a young man works to win the heart of a woman, in spite of the facts that they're not together and she's in a coma. In the latter, a woman grows to love a man who's not exactly human. In Phantom Thread, Reynolds lives in a quiet and structured world. Until he spoke to Alma, Reynolds never gave thought to how change would impact his life. In one scene, for example, Reynolds gets very annoyed when Alma makes too much noise when biting into her toast. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, inspired by reading about the fashion industry of the time, presents a world where quiet is virtually essential, broken only by occasional outbursts by the main character. Even the music score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood reflects the way Reynolds wants his world to be so he can be at his most creative. Alma respects Reynolds's needs while finding a way to remind him she is now a part of the House Of Woodcock.

Day-Lewis, Krieps, and Manville make a compelling trio. As Reynolds, Day-Lewis lives by a routine he believes keeps him at his creative best. He's also a strong believer in the things he cannot see, such as his late mother, whom he continues to miss. He treats his dresses as though they were his children, and even stitches a name into each one personally, never letting any owner know about that touch. He loves Alma, yet he finds some of her ways distracting. All along, he knows that her presence has made his life and his work better. Should this be his final screen appearance, as he has announced, Day-Lewis has made a grand final statement. Manville, as Cyril, is a sister who has devoted her life to the family business, and sometimes acts as a sort of chaperone to Reynolds and Alma. For example, she advises Alma that a surprise party for Reynolds is not a good idea. Alma hears Cyril, but sends her away when he proceeds with her plan. Cyril does whatever she can to make sure her brother's day goes the way he wants it. Krieps, as Alma, is the strong - and often silent - type. The minute Reynolds made his interest in her known, she knows her days as a server are over. She also works to make Reynolds respect her needs, such as attending a lively New Year's party without him before he ultimately joins her on the dance floor. Alma also ensures she plans to be a faithful wife in ever riskier ways.


Phantom Thread is a film that could describe a life with many a demanding artist. Reynolds Woodcock treats his fashions with the special attention his customers demand. When he finds the call for love must be answered, Reynolds finds the routines of his creations altered by someone who desires more attention than he gives to the dresses he designs. His work has a personal touch, but he also has to give a different kind of touch to his beloved Alma. His dresses are made from the finest threads, but the ones for his love need to be the ones that aren't tangible.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Phantom Thread four stars. The ties that bind cannot be seen.

Phantom Thread trailer


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      Pat Mills 2 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

      Thanks Louise. I hope you have the chance to see one of the best films of 2017, and one that deservedly has Oscar attention.

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      Louise Powles 2 months ago from Norfolk, England

      This sounds like a very interesting film and one I would enjoy. =)