Phantom Thread is the second collaboration between the writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson and the actor Daniel Day-Lewis—and if the latter is to be believed, it will be the last. Day-Lewis has announced that he is retiring following this performance. I don’t doubt the sincerity of this vow, but I dearly hope he will change his mind. (Steven Soderbergh did, after all.) At 60, Day-Lewis has many more years—and, with luck, memorable performances—ahead of him.
Anderson’s previous collaboration with Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, was very nearly a masterpiece before it undid itself in the final act. Like that film, Phantom Thread is the story of a difficult, exacting man. But befitting their respective titles, it unfolds in a gentler key. Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a master dressmaker in mid-century London: prim, meticulous, and—as one character describes him—“fussy.” He lives and works in a grand house with his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), and a series of muses who are discarded once they cease to inspire him.
We meet one such woman in an early breakfast scene. “Where have you gone, Reynolds?” she pleads with him. “Is there anything I can say that will get your attention back on me?” There is not, and she is quickly shipped out of the house with a dress for her troubles. This is the first of several fraught breakfasts throughout the film; as Cyril later explains of her brother, “If breakfast isn’t right, it’s very hard for him to recover for the rest of the day.” As noted: fussy.