There was a time when a new PT Anderson film would literally have my stomach churning with excited curiosity, and although that no longer happens, there is still a more adult, if, perhaps, more muted, chemical response to a new film of his. I had heard rumblings of a new PT Anderson film but, in the end, its actual release kind of jumped out at me: I knew virtually nothing about Phantom Thread before seeing it and, actually, I prefer it that way. I didn’t know, for instance, that Lesley Manville was in it, being just brilliant, as she absolutely always is. I put her in a class with the very, very finest actors; one who brings mystery, humanity and humour to whatever she appears in. A real treat to see her on the cinema screen, trading professional blows with Daniel Day Lewis and Vicky Krieps.
One doesn’t associate PT Anderson with romance; love stories, and although this film is a completely different kettle of fish to Punch-Drunk, a similar trope of pathological and even psychotic tendencies and dependencies that are a part of intense relationships is a preeminent theme. Apparently, Phantom Thread is Daniel Day-Lewis’ last role before retiring. Whether it is or not (does anyone really retire these days?) he is, as he almost always is, compelling, present, intelligent, nuanced and open in his performance. Vicky Krieps as the mysterious Alma Elsen, and Lesley Manville, both give as good as they get, each stakes an individual claim for their own kind of authority, and from that point of view Phantom Thread is, at the very least, a masterclass in not-so-subtle passive aggressive manoeuvres.
Phantom Thread preaches at the high table of cinema as a material, analogue, art and craft. It’s not slow cinema, but it certainly is not in a hurry. Watching it, I felt as though I was watching a film that had been photographed by people, through lenses, capturing a world that is uneven and, most of all, at the mercy of the human condition.