“Phantom Thread” follows Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), who with his sister (Lesley Manville) runs a 1955 London couture house that dresses royalty and society.
Reynolds is, to put it mildly, a control freak whose bubble-like existence is occasionally enlivened by a young model whom he will seduce and, later, have his sister dismiss.
That changes with the arrival of Alma (newcomer Vicky Krieps) who becomes not only his match but his muse.
This second outing with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” Day-Lewis’ second best actor Oscar) has been dubbed a collaboration, with the actor developing his character, the location, period and even the film’s emotional emphasis.
“Essentially the character, whoever the hell who that is, had to be discovered before it was clear what might come out of him,” Day-Lewis, 60, said at a post-screening panel at the Directors Guild, one of the few publicity chores he did.
Thinner than he appears on screen, with a buzz cut, earrings, jeans and a short-sleeve shirt that spotlighted the many tattoos on his arms, Day-Lewis said he decided the artist he plays should reflect not just his times, but a nation.
“Phantom Thread” is set right after the Queen’s coronation and the end of World War II rationing.
“Coming out of the war years, there were two parallel worlds of couture,” the actor said.
“Paris was the dominant world with the new look. There were also really interesting designers working in London.
“I don’t know if it was the right thing or not, but (we decided) the work somehow should reflect England and the history of England. The fabrics come from the British Isles. That’s the beginning of collections, responding to what (fabrics) they get from Scotland and the north of England.
“The hope is that Woodcock’s world would be reflective of the place he comes from.”