“There’s an air of quiet death in this house”.

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The alleged acting swan-song of Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln“) sees him deliver a brilliantly intense portrayal of a maestro in his craft with all the quirks and egotistical faults that come with that position. 

Reynolds Woodcock is the craftsman behind a world-renowned 1950’s fashion house, in demand from the elite classes and even royalty. He has a magnetic personality, is overtly self-confident, obsessive, a cruel bully and treats his girlfriends as chattels that he can tire of and dismiss from his life without a backward glance. Trying to keep the business and Reynolds on track, with ruthless efficiency, is his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville, “Maleficent“).

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“Whatever you do…. do it carefully”  (Source: Annapurna Pictures)

 Looking for his next conquest during a trip to his seaside residence, he reels in blushing young waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps, “The Colony”). But he gets more than he bargains for. 

This is a really exquisite and gentle film. Aside from some dubious fungi-related practices, there is no violence, no sex and – aside from about half a dozen well-chosen F-words – limited swearing (of which more below). This is a study of the developing relationship between the two protagonists, with little in the way of plot. Sounds dull?  Far from it. This is two hours that flew by.

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A romance about to bloom…. she’ll never waitress in Robin Hood Bay again.  (Source: Annapurna Pictures)

What it also features is (yet) another example of extremely strong women asserting their power. A scene (well trailed in Manville’s award snippets) where Cyril firmly puts Reynolds back in his box is brilliant: a real turning of tables with Woodcock meekly falling into line. And Alma makes for an incredibly rich and complicated character, one of the most interesting female roles I’ve seen this year so far.

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BAFTA and Oscar nominated: the peerless Lesley Manville as Cyril Woodcock. (Source: Annapurna Pictures)

It’s a stellar acting performance from Day-Lewis, and while Oldman fully deserves all of his award kudos for “Darkest Hour”, Day-Lewis delivers the goods without any of the make-up. It feels like Day-Lewis is a long way down the betting odds this year because “he always gets one”. He certainly gets my vote ahead of all of the other three nominees. 

Kreips – not an actress I know – also brilliantly holds her own, and if it wasn’t such a strong female field this year she could well have been nominated.

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A rare scene outside the claustrophobic environment of Woodcock’s houses. Celebrating a New Year together. (Source: Annapurna Pictures)

Also worthy of note is the pervasive piano score by (suprisingly) Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. It’s really lovely and counterpoints the rest of the classical score nicely. Its BAFTA and Oscar nominations are both well deserved (though I would expect the Oscar to follow the BAFTA steer with “The Shape of Water“). 

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Not surprisingly, the film waltzed away with the Best Costume BAFTA, and you would be brave to bet against it for the Oscars. (Source: Annapurna Pictures)

All in all, this is a real tour de force by writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Inherent Vice”, “There Will Be Blood”).  How much I enjoyed this film was a surprise to me, since I have no interest in the “fashion industry” (as my family will no doubt be quick to point out!) and I went to see this more out of ‘duty’ based on its Oscar buzz than because I really wanted to see it.

The big curiosity is why exactly the BBFC decided that this film was worthy of a 15 certificate rather than a 12A.  Their comments on the film say “There is strong language (‘f**k’), as well as milder terms including ‘bloody’ and ‘hell’. Other issues include mild sex references and scenes of emotional upset. In one scene, a woman’s nipples are visible through her slip while she is measured for a dress.”  For a 12A, the board say “The use of strong language (for example, ‘f***’) must be infrequent”. I didn’t count the f-words… but as I said I don’t think it amounts to more than a half-dozen. Is that “frequent”?  And – SHOCK, HORROR… visible covered nipples you say?!   Lock up your teenagers!  When you look at the gentleness of this film versus the violence within “Black Panther”, you have to question this disparity.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

 

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