I absolutely loved Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Phantom Thread. So controlled, so funny, so sumptuous, so mysterious. Paul Thomas Anderson was talking about it the other day on Fresh Air and when Terry Gross mentioned it had the feeling of a “fairy-tale” (think: magical gowns, good and bad “witches”) he said that he was inspired in part by the gothic Christmas horror stories of M.R. James and also … The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter.
Evidently, Daniel Day-Lewis used to read the book to his children every Christmas Eve. And then Anderson started doing the same with his own kids.
Frontispiece: The Tailor Mouse c.1902 Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943
If you don’t recall, this is the story about a poor tailor who has been hired to make an elaborate coat for the mayor’s wedding. He falls extremely ill before it’s finished and isn’t able to finish the garment. But then, the little mice who live in his house come to the rescue: They finish sewing the suit, all while fending off the tailor’s cat, Simpkin, who is trying to eat them. And when the coat is finished, everybody marvels at the incredible craftsmanship of the buttonholes. (Such tiny stitches, “they looked as if they had been made by little mice!”)
When PTA mentioned the book, what immediately came to mind was the palette of the book’s illustrations. Just like in the movie, there are a lot of gorgeous pinks:
And also jewel-colored blues and greens. (Remember the wallpaper in the movie’s breakfast room? Unfortunately, I can’t find a photo of it.)
Aside from the visual aspects, there is a very PTA element of obsession in Potter’s story. Just like couturier Reynolds Woodcock, the tailor of Gloucester is an obsessed artist and perfectionist. In his fevered delirium the tailor keeps repeating: “No more twist! No more twist!” (As a kid reading the book, this stuck with me because I had never heard of twist — turns out it’s a special kind of silk thread for button holes.)
And of course there are those scenes of the feverish Daniel Day-Lewis lying in bed, just like Potter shows the tailor sick in his own bed:
Here’s the transcript from Fresh Air:
ANDERSON: “I don’t know if it’s a fairy tale, but there’s a great book by Beatrix Potter called “The Tale Of Gloucester.” Do you know that one?
TERRY GROSS: “I don’t.”
ANDERSON: “That is about a tailor who is meant to build a suit for the mayor in town. And the night before, he gets sick, and he can’t finish the suit. He’s so sick he can’t finish the suit. So all the mice come out to help finish the suit while fending off the cat that’s trying to kill them. And it’s a beautiful story. And Daniel always liked to read it to his kids Christmas Eve, and I’ve sort of started to do the same thing for a while and – yeah, there you go.”