Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a tremendously successful
fashion designer in 1950’s London. Everyone
who’s anyone comes to him: duchesses,
society matrons, debutantes, socialites, heiresses:
anyone who’s rich enough to not have to ask about price.
In fact, there’s never any mention of how much any of his dresses
cost. There’s only the
fitting, and the measuring, and the cutting, and the sewing.
And then the final presentation, which is always smashing.
Success like this has made Mr. Woodcock ill-mannered, ill-tempered,
completely set in his ways, and intractable in his irascibility.
The only woman he tolerates around him for very long is his sister,
Cyril (Lesley Manville). She’s
put up with him all his life, and is willing to fire back if necessary.
Otherwise, she helps him set up his tyrannical fiefdom.
The employees file in dutifully at the same time, and recognize
that they are to be seen, and not heard.
Breakfast is always quiet. Even
loud crunching of toast is a potential distraction, for Mr. Woodcock has
already begun work, sketching in pen and ink his latest artistic design.
It all started with his mother’s wedding dress when he was 16.
His father had died several years earlier.
It was considered bad luck back then for any woman to touch
another’s wedding dress, so Reynolds just made it all himself.
And so taught himself that he doesn’t need anybody else to tell
him what works and what doesn’t.
Yes, an elite fashion designer has an appreciation for the female
form. Reynolds does, but
he’s also, in his own words, a confirmed bachelor.
He allows certain young women into his life, but as soon as they
start being assertive, or telling him what to do, or try to change his
routine in any way, they’re out. Too
much trouble. Obviously,
he’s never married or had any children, nor would he consider doing so.
Until Alma (Vicky Krieps) came along.
At first, he did for her what came naturally to him:
fitted her for a dress. But
he was infatuated with her form, and for a while she became someone he
could not live without: lover,
yes, but really more of a Muse. She
inspired him, and that meant more to him than any physical tryst.
Daniel Day-Lewis’ intensity is a natural for this role.
And the haunting, lilting musical score of Jonny Greenwood just
adds to the climate of buttoned-up snobbery passing for competence.
The crises come when Alma wants to do something normal, like cook
for him, or go dancing with him. He
doesn’t do normal. He just
does what he does: make
designer dresses. Every waking
minute. The only time he
really got vulnerable with her was when he was sick, when he at last
allowed her to mother him.
It really feels more like a play (and still could be).
There’s a lot of dialogue, very little action, and long periods
of strained silence. Most
viewers will not find it very amusing.
But the intensity if palpable.
Even if a bit esoteric.