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Film

Paul Thomas Anderson names the actor who could "do no wrong"

Recognised as one of the most important and innovative filmmakers of the 21st century, the American auteur Paul Thomas Anderson has elevated the quality of modern cinema with such films as The Master, There Will be Blood, Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love. Whilst each and every one of his films is celebrated by both fans and critics, his 2017 movie, Phantom Thread, is rarely considered to be one of his very best, despite showing off some of the filmmaker’s finest ever moments. 

The historical romantic drama takes audiences back to post-war 1950s London where the life of the renowned dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), is disrupted by a strong-willed woman who becomes a source of great torment and inspiration. Delicately balancing intense romance with humour and drama in a well-woven script from Anderson, many pointed to Day-Lewis’ performance as the film’s glittering centrepiece.

Nominated for Best Leading Actor at the 90th Academy Awards, Day-Lewis’ role in the film is predictably handled with elegant confidence by one of the best actors of all time, however, it was the supporting effort of Lesley Manville as Cyril, Reynolds’ sister, that proves far more powerful with the benefit of post-awards hindsight. 

Paul Thomas Anderson had long-admired the British actor in fact, telling Richard Gladstein of the American Film Institute how he discovered the beloved performer in a Q&A event back in 2018.

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“My love affair with Lesley Manville was to the point where the crew would always be whispering like ‘teachers pet’”, the filmmaker explained, praising the actor for her remarkable professionalism. Continuing, the filmmaker exclaimed, “i=It’s like, put the camera on Lesley Manville, she could do no wrong. I could ask her to do anything and she could do it”. 

The filmmaker and Gladstein go on to discuss the significance of cinematography in framing Manville’s character as the conductor of power in the movie, referencing one specific moment when she stares right into the lens of the camera in her very first scene. “That idea of staring into the lens is something I’ve done before, I stole it from Jonathan Demme who’s the master of it,” the director clarifies, adding, “I didn’t think I would do it here, in this movie, but when she did it the first time it was so good I said, ‘let’s do it again’”. 

Best known for her collaborations with the British filmmaking icon Mike Leigh, Lesley Manville has appeared in seven of the director’s movies, including the Palme d’Or-winning 1996 film Secrets & Lies and Leigh’s most recent project, Mr. Turner.

The greatest of such performances comes in the 2010 movie Another Year, where Manville plays Mary, a friend of the married couple who leads the story. Fragile and emotionally volatile, Manville produces one of the finest performances of the 21st century, filling the shoes of a character who feels so tangible and concrete in reality.

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