Read freely; no spoilers in this review.
Among other definitions, "phantom" can mean "a figment of the imagination". In the case of this new creepy romance starring Daniel Day Lewis and written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the phantom is thread needed to stitch the film into a credible whole. That things don't quite turn out the way I thought doesn't make up for the fact I couldn't find any sympathy for the two principals.
He is a fuddy-duddy uptight English couturier working in a 1950s Britain that seems to have quickly recovered from the hardships of the recent war. She is a charmingly clumsy waitress from an undetermined European country. We know little about her background in the beginning and no more at the end.
I'll leave you to figure what it was all about and if you cared. My problems with "Phantom Thread" are more visceral. I hated the fashions. Reynolds Woodcock, the designer, is meant to be ultra-successful, with a white-coated retinue of seamstresses lined up each morning for his inspection. His atelier is also his home, a tony row house in a spiffy part of town. Affording its upkeep depends on the wealthy clientele he serves. But he's not struggling, again despite a Britain that in reality took many more years to recover.
Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies were practically the only British designers with name recognition at the time. They were both long established by the 1950s and dressed the social upper crust and royalty. Hartnell especially was a favorite of the British royal family. Although influenced by Dior's New Look (as was everyone), their work was proper, stiff and a bit fussy. England did not catch fire as a design powerhouse until the "Swnging Sixties" of Mary Quant, Ossie Clark, Biba, et al.
For me to care about Reynolds Woodcock his work needed to be so much more. His dresses should have been magical, as intricate as a Charles James or as dramatic as a Balenciaga. Our heroine, if we can call her that, was not transformed by wearing a Woodcock original. She didn't do much for any of them either. Woodcock's dresses were never wonderful enough, in my mind, to overcome his rotten personality.