WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.
Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love. -Synopsis from Focus Features
Arguably the strongest part of the film, the score possesses Paul Thomas Anderson’s signature strange aura that is found in several of his other films. While most movies nowadays would use music to heighten drama, he rejects the common norm; valuing music to form an atmosphere.
The acting is very strong, as the film’s performances can feel slightly subdued and low-key before creeping up on the viewer to create a sharp but simple impact. The movie’s script is a delight, managing to pull of a genuine hat-trick by feeling both simple and complex at the same time.
Ms. Krieps goes toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in their scenes. Her blushy cheeks and determined eye of observation bely an inner strength that isn’t necessarily obvious at first glance.
-Excerpts from IMDB reviews
Director Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson got the initial idea for this film while he was sick in bed one day. His wife, actress Maya Rudolph, was tending to him and gave him a look that made him realize that she had NOT looked at him with such tenderness and love in a long time. P.T. Anderson wrote the script in collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis (DDL). The actor suggested the name of his character be Reynolds Woodcock as a joke, BUT Anderson found that hilarious and kept it. To prep for his role, DDL (renown as a method actor) watched footage of ’40s and ’50s fashion shows, studied famous designers, consulted with the curator of fashion and textiles (Victoria and Albert Museum), and apprenticed under Marc Happel (head of the costume department at the NYC Ballet). DDL also learned how to sew. He said that this would be his final film.
When I was a boy, I started to hide things in the lining of the garments. Things only I knew were there. Secrets. -Reynolds explains to Alma on their first date
Fastidious fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock (DDL) meets waitress Alma (Vicky Kreips- an actress who comes from Luxembourg) when he stops for breakfast at a little restaurant on the way to his country house. He orders a huge breakfast; it’s obvious that they’re interested in each other. After dinner at a fancy restaurant, Reynolds takes Alma to his house where he puts her on a pedestal (literally) and begins to measure her for a dress. She is surprised, yet intrigued.
I cannot start my day with a confrontation. I simply have no time for confrontations. -Reynolds explains to Alma over breakfast
The tea is going out. The interruption is staying right here with me. -Reynolds complains to Alma when she comes to his workroom to serve him tea.
In no time, Alma is living in Reynolds’ London house; she has her own room (next door to his). It turns out that Reynolds and his business partner/sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville- a British character actress), are a package deal. It’s NOT an ideal situation for Alma, though she gets used to this unique life. The domestic space is also a business, so there are people around most of the time (servants, seamstresses, etc.) Alma is fitted for fine dresses, serves as a model, and meets famous clients of the House of Woodcock. However, she grows dissatisfied w/ her (undefined) role in Reynolds’ life. He puts his work first and doesn’t apologize for it; she wants him to be nicer (instead of critical and demanding). Alma wants to get married; Reynolds thinks of himself as “a confirmed bachelor.” Eventually, he realizes Alma is different than his past girlfriends; he loves her and needs her around.
Some have embraced this film warmly; after all, it deals w/ compromise in romantic relationships, the everyday trials of domestic life, and challenges of being involved w/ an artist. This film has problematic elements (esp. for modern/feminist viewers), though it’s well-made and finely acted. As some critics pointed out, Alma (who is in her 30s) doesn’t really have much power in the relationship; Reynolds (older/wealthier/influential) could throw her out on the street at any time. We don’t learn where Alma comes from (she has a vague/European accent), if she has any family, or what her life was like (before she met Reynolds).
Does Alma take back some of the power in their relationship? Well, she decides to use the poison mushrooms to slow Reynolds down. He becomes sick temporarily, yet also emotionally vulnerable. She admits that she likes this side of him. The second time, Reynolds consents to being poisoned, eating the omelet she serves w/ great relish. Hmmm… NOT exactly the kind of ending you’d expect from the typical period drama/romance!