A weird and warped tale of 1950s high fashion



A weird and warped tale of 1950s high fashion

Daniel Day-Lewis is sublime in 'Phantom Thread'

Lisa Armstrong

To say that Phantom Thread, the Oscar-nominated new film from Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day Lewis, is splitting the jury is an understatement.  These are some of the opinions being bandies about:  Another perverse pandering to the male creative ego is one. A weird but wonderful subversion of the usual male-female power equation is another.
It’s the warped tale of 1950s couturier Reynolds Woodcock (and yes, we have problems already – what kind of name is that for a contemporary of Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell?) and his strange relationships with women. So far so predictable, except that it’s not.Thomas Anderson and Day Lewis (in what is reportedly his last film role) researched 1950s fashion forensically, engaging the expertise of two archivists at the V&A who used to work as seamstresses at Hardy Amies.You can spot them in the film, as Thomas Anderson later cast them. It’s partly this appreciation of the army of highly skilled sewers and cutters, mostly women, that makes this film so absorbing. If nothing else, it’s a love letter to the sublime manifestation of craft. Day Lewis even learned how to make button holes and he said in an interview that he created a dress for his wife, which she loyally wears.
It’s beautiful to look at and hypnotically evocative of the rigid glamour and threadbare austerity that were distinctive hallmarks of the period.  If you don’t come out of the film wanting to banish the shoddy from your life, you weren’t paying attention.But there is one major plausibility barrier. Critics, I refer you to Day Lewis’s fingernails. They’re dirty. So much effort expended on getting everything right – you can see the chapping on his hands where the needles would have pierced him – and then they get this wrong. A couturier of Woodcock’s obsessive fastidiousness would never have had grime under his nails.
I hate to take on the might of the film establishment by finding fault with one of the world’s greatest living actors, but his method just doesn’t cut it here. If he’d like to step up his game – and there are crazy rumours that he’s thinking of setting up his own label once he retires from acting – he should definitely find himself a great manicurist.
© The Daily Telegraph

This article is reserved for Sunday Times Daily subscribers.
A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times Daily content.

Sunday Times Daily

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems?
Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.