Director: Todd Haynes.
Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Cory Michael Smith, Kevin Crowley, Carrie Brownstein, Trent Rowland, Sadie Heim, Kk Heim, Amy Warner, Michael Haney, Pamela Haynes.

“Just when you think it can’t get any worse, you run out of cigarettes”

As a talented writer, Patricia Highsmith has been responsible for the source material of some great film adaptations; Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces of January are a notable few. However, Todd Haynes’ Carol is an adaptation of the 1952 novel The Price of Salt which Highsmith wrote under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan to avoid harming her reputation and ruining her career. This was a novel that would’ve caused widespread controversy for such a high-profile author at this time and it wasn’t until 1990 that Highsmith was credited. Now, over 60 years later, Todd Haynes brings it to the screen for a contemporary audience and affords it the respect that it’s been deserving of for too long.

Plot: Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), is a young woman who longs to be a photographer but for the moment finds herself working as a clerk in a department store. It’s here that she encounters Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), an alluring woman with a wealthy background. There’s a spark between them and what begins as a friendship soon develops into an unexpected love affair that does not follow the conventional norms of 1950s America.

Opening with Carter Burwell’s sweeping music, Todd Haynes takes us back to New York in the 1950’s where it’s obvious from the very first moments that meticulous and extensive production design has went into this. Put simply, it’s a breathtakingly beautiful film. Haynes basks in a luxurious palette of colours that’s captured so magnificently by Edward Lachman’s cinematography where the deep hues radiate from the screen and the attention to detail is so precise that it’s difficult to accept that a director can achieve such exquisite sophistication. Visually, there’s so much going on that absolute credit must go to Haynes’ entire crew; Judy Becker’s production design is flawless while Sandy Powell makes a huge contribution with her striking costume design.

The look of the film is one thing and it’s undoubtedly a thing of beauty but Haynes also has the cast to convince you of this melancholic love story. Anchoring the film are two exceptional lead performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Both were deservedly Oscar nominated for their work and are an absolute delight to watch as Haynes gives them plenty of time to breathe and allows them to take ownership of their characters. Their subtle facial expressions and nervous eye contact always hint at something more. There’s such nuance and delicacy to their performances that every moment of contact, be it eyes or physical touch, resonates so strongly that words often aren’t even required. We regularly observe their characters through windows, door frames and at a distance which suggests an eavesdropping secrecy and Haynes often depicts them separated in crowded rooms, hinting at the difficulty of their taboo relationship. Such an approach from Haynes is a masterstroke. Even when the characters are distant from one another, the closeness and longing from them is palpable. Although this received widespread critical acclaim and garnered 6, thoroughly deserved, Oscar nominations it really isn’t for all tastes. Some viewers may struggle with its languid pace which can make the film difficult to connect with – especially in its initial stages. That said, there is so much going on stylistically that you’re still swept along with the melodrama.

Todd Haynes has crafted a gorgeous evocation of the 1950’s era. It’s hugely confident filmmaking from a director that seems to excel when approaching complex social issues during a time when society was less accepting and appearances were everything. Like his Far From Heaven before it, this is a stunning work of art that has, at its centre, a truly devastating and melancholic love story where individuals struggle with their freedom of expression.

Mark Walker

Trivia: The character of Carol Aird was inspired by Virginia Kent Catherwood (1915-1966), a Philadelphia socialite six years older than Patricia Highsmith with whom the author had a love affair in the 1940s. Catherwood lost custody of her daughter after her homosexuality was used against her with a taped recording of a lesbian liaison she had in a hotel room.

23 Responses to “Carol”

  1. Yeah this was really good and nicely told but I think it was that pacing issue that snagged me a bit. Also the overarching love story was ultimately too familiar to me. I gotta separate that criticism out from the performances, though. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett are a powerhouse in this movie. Phenomenal portrayals, and probably the reason I didn’t just dismiss Carol as a barely average drama. Its definitely more than that. Call mine an appreciation of the movie and source material rather than outright love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d go along with your thoughts here, Tom. The pacing kept me from absolutely loving it too. It was beautiful to look at and the performances were outstanding but I much preferred Haynes’ Far From Heaven. That is a masterpiece in my eyes and I expected the same with Carol. Maybe my expectations were a little high, though. Like you, I really liked it but it wasn’t quite what many critics made it out to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice review Mark. I enjoyed Carol too, particularly the performances by Mara and Blanchett, but like you, it didn’t quite live up to my high expectations. While I liked how Haynes approached such sensitive material, Carol didn’t stand out to me as much as it did for others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I’m a huge, huge fan of Far From Heaven, Charles. And with the critical praise this received, I expected it to hit the same heights as Haynes’ earlier film but it didn’t quite drawn me in as Far From Heaven did. I really liked Carol. I thought it was beautiful and very well performed but it’s pace was a bit of an issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good review, Mark. There was much to enjoy about this film. A beautiful film, well-acted. Something about it dragged for me. I was bored at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Cindy. Yeah, the pacing did seem to keep you at a distance. I felt the same but I was still really taken by how beautiful it was shot and Blanchett and Mara had me really invested in their characters.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review of a very moving love story. I think it’s almost flawless filmmaking but the script needed one final kick near the end to up the drama. I mean I really wanted Carol to cut loose and share her real emotions to the husband and men cornering her. But, this was a film about restraint and told through the visuals and subtle performances.

    Big shout out to the composer Carter Burwell; one of the greatest scores of recent times.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Paul. I too admired very much about this. It was stunningly shot and acted. Admittedly, I had some difficulties with the pace. It kept me slightly distant from fully embracing it but when you mention “restraint”, maybe this was Haynes’ intention all along.

      Good shout on the ending. I loved how we were left waiting on Carol catching Therese’s eye through the crowd. It was very tense but, yeah, she was still surrounded by men and keeping up appearances.

      Agreed on Burwell’s score. It was perfectly and emotionally fitting.

      Thanks again for stopping by, my friend. A pleasure.!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. good review and well articulated. I can respect why you liked this movie. However i am not onboard i was very disappointed. The age difference between these 2 women is cringeworthy. I also find the fashion sense of the 50s to be very boring. I dont find socialites interesting either and i never root for marital infidelity. Blanchetts character is not likable she is not mentally healthy and rooney needs to walk away from het toxicity. I never root for that couple. and yes major pacing issues. I walked away mad because i felt like some people say the movie is good because they sound progressive for liking it hey its mara and blanchett and indie and lesbians so on paper it sounds awesome but i just dont get it. Make it in the 90s make the actresses closer in age make them more grungy and relatable and not married and i could dig it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting comment, Danny. I take onboard everything you say and, for the most, I don’t disagree. There was a certain mental health fragility from Blanchett and sometimes I did feel that she was predatory towards Mara. Even a little creepy. As for the 50’s setting, I’m a huge admirer of that. It could’ve maybe worked better in a grungier, contemporary setting but gay relationships in the 50’s were more taboo and I’m a sucker for the way Haynes captures the 50’s. His Far From Heaven is one of my favourite films and, although similar to Carol, it’s far superior.


  6. A sublime review Mark. I missed this in cinema but really want to see it now.

    Liked by 1 person

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