Screen entertainment
Chilly Phantom Thread rings hollow

In 1950s post-war London, Paul Thomas Anderson latest film aims to shine with sleek production values, a pitch-perfect soundtrack from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and Daniel Day-Lewis' acting.

And yet, the chilly Phantom Thread fails to emotionally engage the viewer with its tale of control, power plays and a decidedly uncomfortable central relationship.

Day-Lewis is renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, a fashion icon, and confirmed bachelor who welcomes women into his life as muses, then discards them when they reach the end of their usefulness.

Escaping to the country after delivering a dress, Woodcock meets waitress Alma (Krieps), whose entrance into his life is marred by a clumsiness that juxtaposes his own precision. Taken with her, Woodcock finds new inspiration in her shape and is consumed with the creative joy a muse brings.

However, Alma is strong-willed and refuses to bend to his more curious edges, setting up a conflict that has ramifications for the Woodcock house and empire.

It's fair to say that Anderson's Phantom Thread has an icy chilliness that some will find engaging, and others will find disengaging.

Delicately woven, this psychological battle of wills plays out on a frosty background that seems oddly contemporary despite its period setting.

While Day-Lewis' Woodcock is a relatively spiteful enigma, whose indifference and desire for perfection irritates, Alma's desire to be part of this world and to be the woman who changes the man for the better is a universal theme in all relationship dramas.

Orbiting the pair of them is the Oscar-nominated Lesley Manville, as Cyril, Woodcock's sister and administrative arm of the empire. With relatively little dialogue and the nuance of minor actions throughout, Manville brings a thaw to proceedings as Cyril goes on her own arc.

But it's Krieps who engages the most here - going from doe-eyed would-be-suitor to woman determined to get her own way (elements of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth's Florence Pugh spring to mind), her character is one that feels like a reaction of the #MeToo movement, a woman whose desires won't be thwarted by a creative fragile apparent genius.

And yet, despite the strong performances, Phantom Thread itself remains somewhat of an enigma, a curio of a film that never quite hits any emotional resonance and feels like you, the audience, is watching a game of chess from afar. 

It's a distant piece, and with its meticulous edges, feels a little too crafted for general consumption. It may be sumptuous, but it's never bewitching at the level it should be. Everyone's functioning at the top of their game, and the pieces are there, but the emotional core of where Phantom Thread should be feels hollow and unconnected and uninviting to anything else.

Phantom Thread

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson