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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Sartorial Icon Meets Prandial Ghost

Phantom Thread (2017) on IMDb

Plot Overview

bitchy woman London dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), "a most demanding man," having dismissed his latest kept-woman "Anna"—Johanna—(Camilla Ruther­ford) and suffered some minor disruption to his orderly day heads to the Victoria Hotel pub to wind down. His waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps) misses a half-step coming out of the kitchen ("Ha!") but recovers her­self with equanimity, a mannerism he finds endearing. He gives her a challenging order to remember in her head, but she succeeds—better than she'll do at back­gammon later on. They make a dinner date. After­wards, he invites her to his home where she makes the observation:

Alma: You are a very handsome man. Why are you not married?

Reynolds Woodcock: I make dresses.

Alma: [chuckling] You cannot be married when you make dresses?

Reynolds Woodcock: I'm certain I was never meant to marry. I'm a confirmed bachelor. I'm incurable.

He wants her to model a dress for him ("You have the ideal shape.") She demurs, saying that her shoulders are too broad and her arms too strong. Although her body doesn't look that way on screen—some kind of casting error, I suppose—those are in fact the physical character­istics a waitress will develop over time, after carrying all those plates lined up on her arms. The script at least indicates she's on a par with him professionally, within her own sphere, of course.

They say a man marries his mother. Reynolds's first dress creation was his mother's (2nd) wedding dress. Now he fantasizes that her ghost watches over his work ("It's comforting to think the dead are watching over the living.") He plays dress-up on his series of women whom he turns into back­ground phantoms, otherwise. Alma is about to get her­self inserted into that long line of his ("I feel like I've been looking for you for all my life.") She cautions him, how­ever, that "What­ever you do, do care­fully." He designs dresses that make the woman from the out­side in. She prepares the food that makes the man from the inside out. It is never a good idea to get on the wrong side of the person who prepares your food. Here's an example from #1 New York Times best­selling author David Baldacci:

"Our theory is the woman came back to the house the day before Martin died and doctored the bottle to make sure his next drink would be his last. The bottle of Scotch we found was loaded with methanol. Now, methanol is slow to metabolize into toxic levels. You're looking at twelve to twenty-four hours. If he'd been young and healthy and been found immediately, maybe Martin could have made it to a hospital and survived. But he wasn't young or healthy; he was terminal, in fact." (228)


Reynolds Woodcock's sister Cyril (Leslie Manville) upon arriving at the house notices some­thing different and asks, "And who is this lovely creature making the house smell so nice?" It's similar to what we read in Song of Solomon where the virgins praise the Shulamite woman whom Solomon is courting (and marries) and special mention is made of her fragrance, Song 4:16, Song 7:13, etc. One of the idylls in that book concerns marital conflicts, treated allegorically:

Song 2:15 Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.

"Little foxes" are destructive pests, it's best to deal with relationship difficulties early on before they grow big. Reynolds wants a quiet morning breakfast-time to launch from into his creative day. Alma is used to pots and pans banging in the kitchen. They have to work some­thing out.

(Song 1:7) "Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?" The Shulamite is having separation anxieties when her shepherd lover has gone off to work, tending his sheep some­where on the mountain, she's wondering if he's deserted her. (Song 1:8) "If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the foot­steps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents." The shepherd had to mollify her, and she had to deal with it. Anna had similar difficulty at the beginning of the film, losing him to his own world of work while still at the break­fast table. Confronting him out­right was not the best move.

(Song 2:4) "He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love." Yes, but after he is done with work, he is supposed to spend some time celebrating with his lovely. Here is where this couple has a real problem, the man being a workaholic. On their honeymoon:

She: "I want to go dancing right now; it's New Year's Eve. … We need to go dancing."

He: "I'm going to stay right here and I'm going to work."

You see the problem. Their wedding vows hoped for more: "binding contracts, binding words. I call upon those persons present to witness—" The British vows weren't shown, but in America it's some­thing like, "to have and to hold." Arguments happen, however, and the American man has his way with her or puts her in a wrestling hold, and the courts have a fit even though no real harm was done. But this movie is one where the woman must find some recourse, and she's British, not American. And she's able to determine when he has dinner and whether he can hold it down, that kind of "to have and hold" not the other. A reversal of sex roles was commented on by San Francisco Chronicle journalist Charles McCabe writing on Dame Power:

British anthropologist Ashley Montagu … [i]n a new book called "The American Way of Life" … argues that the ladies, though still marvelous, are rightly mixed up about their roles in life because they went a bit too far when they battled for the vote and equal rights in this country. Dr. Montagu says that women in this country have undoubtedly made good in areas they would never have thought of entering a half-century ago. The price, though, has been what he calls "psychic masculinization—the tendency to identify them­selves with males, to think and act as males, and to aspire to masculine roles with resulting turmoil and confusion."

As a consequence and corollary of all this, there has been the feminization of their males, Dr. Montagu says. He adds, "American women in great quantities go to their psycho­thera­pists and complain that their husbands are not as they would have them be, he-men. American men visit their psycho­thera­pists and complain that their wives are not as they would have them be, she-women" (53).

Alma is introduced to us from the get-go in a therapeutic setting, but she seems to be well-adjusted.

Alma: "Reynolds has made my dreams come true. And I had given him what he desires most in return." Dr. Robert Hardy: "And what's that?" Alma: "Every piece of me."

Things are better for women in Europe, Dr. Montagu says. "Her life is focused principally on the happiness of her husband and children and this is likely to be satisfying to every­one concerned" (McCabe 54).

Production Values

This artsy film, "" (2018) was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson who was also an uncredited cinema­tog­rapher. It's set in 1950's London. It stars Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Lesley Manville. Daniel Day Lewis and Vicky Kriceps gave magnificent performances. Lesley Manville did very well as sister supporting actress.

MPAA rated it R for language (i.e., f-word). It was filmed in London, England, UK. The director was ingenious in his use of long takes. The closeups were very close, but the subjects were well groomed so it all came out okay. An orchestral score by Jonny Greenwood sets an anticipatory mood; it relies a lot on piano pieces that are easy on the ears.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

"Phantom Thread" is an artistic accomplishment wrt optics, audio, direction & acting. The romance is more practical than the usual Hollywood emotional fare. There's some­thing one can learn from it, though not every­one will be able to relate strongly with the characters—rich and gifted. If you like artsy movies, this one is well done and will give you your money's worth.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good Date Movie. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five. Suspense: A few good suspenseful moments.

Works Cited

Scripture quotations were from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Baldacci, David. Split Second. New York: Warner Books, 2003. Print.

McCabe, Charles. Tall Girls Are Grateful. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1973. Print.