THE latest film from Magnolia and There Will Be Blood cult auteur Paul Thomas Anderson is a singularly elegant, intensely claustrophobic and fantastically ripe character piece, bursting at the seams with quiet dread and fixated on the idea of twisted fascination in all its unpredictable forms.

Set in the pristine world of high fashion in 1950s London, we centre on Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a fastidious dressmaker with what feels like a primal need for things to be done in a certain way – a veritable man-child dressed in designer outfits and wilfully stuck in his ways.

Only his sister/business partner Cyril (a sublimely steely-eyed Lesley Manville) seems able to scold his cantankerous behaviour without any real consequence. But their carefully-curated world is turned upside down upon the arrival of Alma (Vicky Krieps), a beautiful young waitress whom Reynolds takes on as his muse, live-in model and eventual lover.

Anderson’s film is a mystery, a love story and study of obsessive and demanding behaviour all at once, each coiling around one another to make an at once intoxicating and unsettling concoction. It presents a potent atmosphere of seduction and enigmatic danger whose scent you can’t help but follow to whatever dark corner of its mind it wants to lead you.

By design this isn’t a typical portrait of a traditional romance and it’s the nuanced, multifaceted performances that ground the oddness in studied authenticity. Day-Lewis is nothing short of masterful as Reynolds, treading a difficult line between the palpable drive to achieve perfection, self-aware drollness and pent-up frustration ready to boil over at any minute.

Like with his turn as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, he disappears into the role to make a challenging, frequently hateful figure both utterly captivating and ironically sympathetic. If this really is to be his final film performance then it’s a fitting swansong indeed.

But while you might come for Day-Lewis, you’ll leave hugely affected by Krieps’ revelatory performance as Alma. The relatively unknown Luxembourg-born actress more than holds her own opposite who many would consider the world’s greatest living actor, finding delicate ways to communicate not so much a trite sea-change in Alma’s personhood but a gradual unveiling that feeds into the theme of power dynamics that feels sewn into the very fabric of the film.

It examines the idea of power struggles within an opposites attract relationship and what it means when a demanding person has that power chipped away from them, while also exploring the concept of love itself as a strange and elusive idea difficult to attain and even more so to sustain.

It’s a film that’s bold and intricately detailed but also finds way of creeping up on you when you least expect it, inviting you to laugh outright at its purposefully wry sense of humour during the least expected moments or hitting you in the gut with tension-filled exchanges. For instance, at the centre of what is mostly a two-hander chamber piece lies one of the most riveting character-driven scenes in recent memory when Alma confronts Reynolds’ about the game she perceives him to be playing with her life.

Anderson’s control of tone is peerless; it’s clear he knows full well how to work his audience who may have arrived at this particular upmarket door with pre-conceived notions. Set to a sensational score by regular collaborator Jonny Greenwood which morphs between lavishly romantic and piercingly eerie, his Phantom Thread is a fascinatingly layered piece of cinema that confounds and enraptures in equal measure, executed with exquisite style, grace and a thematic blossoming of what its unique director has dealt with before.

Rating: ★★★★★