Writer: Phyllis Nagy (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (novel, The Price of Salt)
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, KK Heim
Running time: 118mins
The lowdown: Heartbreaking and intoxicating, Carol is a majestic experience. Cate Blanchett is on Blue Jasmine-level form as Carol and Rooney Mara delivers her best performance to date as Therese, two women who fall for each other in 1950s New York. This threatens a custody battle in which society woman Carol is embroiled and store worker Therese’s relationship with her decent but dull boyfriend. Haynes has total control of the emotions and sumptuous visuals in a film that echoes Wong Kar-wai’s In The Mood For Love. No small praise indeed.
The full verdict: Opening on a pivotal scene before flashing back, Carol is beautifully told, the two women’s simmering attraction rising over the course of two perfectly crafted hours.
Shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, the saturated colours are reminiscent of 1950s fashion magazines and bleed off the screen. Particularly Carol’s red coat, setting her apart from the wintry Manhattan background and catching Therese’s eye.
Not that their love is going to be easy. A world of stifling conformity shackles Carol to her divorced husband Harge (Chandler), her previous relationships providing him with “morality clause” ammunition in an increasingly ugly battle for their daughter (Heim).
The toy store where Carol and Therese first meet is a world of idealised conformity, baby dolls lining the younger woman’s counter, while the symbolic train set she desired as a child is out of reach.
Haynes, back in Far From Heaven country channeling the melodrama of Douglas Sirk and Vincente Minnelli, has created a compelling portrayal of love and confusion in a mature film with plenty of victims but admirably few villains.
Set during Christmas, a melancholy tone embraces both Harge and Therese’s boyfriend Richard (Lacy), the emotions of the women in their life beyond their understanding.
A road trip takes Carol and Therese on a journey of literal discovery, Mara affecting as the ingénue blossoming with the older woman, while Blanchett can raise room temperature by simply brushing her hand across Therese’s shoulder.
But, polite society is just one step behind.
Blanchett is astonishing, delivering a performance on par with Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. Both stoic and tremulous, her scenes with Chandler, Mara and Heim are note perfect, the Oscar winning actress giving three different facets of one complex character.
Sarah Paulson lends solid support as Carol’s friend and one time lover, while Chandler’s nuanced performance should also elevate his stock as a great character actor.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s’ novel The Price of Salt, the bitterness, danger and recrimination that marks the novelist’s work is captured in Phyllis Nagy’s adaptation.
Along with a dark streak of black humour. The festive period setting thrown into sharp relief by the name of the film’s titular character, while consummation of Carol and Therese’s happiness occurs in a rundown town ominously named Waterloo.
Exquisite, raw and sublime, expect the heat to rise between now and Oscar time.