Carol is a beautiful film in spirit and aesthetic which features typically flawless storytelling at the hands of director Todd Haynes, and Cate Blanchett’s latest pitch for a Best Actress Oscar. She plays a disenchanted housewife who falls in love with a young department store clerk (a career-making turn by Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara, also up for an Oscar but scandalously pigeon-holed as “supporting” despite matching the excellent Blanchett at every turn and sharing as much screen-time). Naturally, the film being set in 1950s America, lesbian relationships are neither encouraged nor openly acknowledged, and the women’s clandestine affair inevitably causes conflict and heartbreak.
Adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel (as so many of the best “old-fashioned” films seem to be, The Talented Mr Ripley being a personal favourite), although we may feel we’ve seen similar domestic dilemmas before, the essential story of two people falling in love is timeless. Mara is superb, her young Therese Belivet captivating as she herself is caught in the beam of Blanchett’s luminosity. The burgeoning attraction is nicely observed, subtle and enchanting without being anything spectacular.
Haynes is a master of many cinematic trades: like Carol, in Far From Heaven and Safe he directed a strong leading lady (both times Julianne Moore) for whom malaise – nay, depression – was the crippling character trait; his art direction always effortlessly evokes the olden days from wallpaper and teacups to fabulous costuming and period-piece hairstyles.
But mainly it is Haynes’ empathy – for those disenfranchised from society by their unorthodox leanings – which sings most pure, and the impeccable casting (our heroines are supported by Zero Dark Thirty’s Kyle Chandler and wonderful indie actress Sarah Paulson) makes Carol yet another diamond in Haynes’ already weighty crown.