Patricia Highsmith (The Two Faces Of January, The Talented Mr. Ripley) originally published the novel The Price Of Salt under a pseudonym in 1952. The novel was republished under her own name, and retitled Carol, in 1990. Now, director Todd Haynes (I'm Not There.,Velvet Goldmine) with Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett as the leads.
Cate Blanchett is just superb as Carol, glamorous and positively oozing classic Hollywood elegance. She evokes memories of Lauren Bacall and Rita Hayworth throughout. Carol is divorcing from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) due to a previous affair she had with another female friend which has ramifications over custody of her daughter. There are several powerful scenes where Blanchett absolutely shines, none less than an emotional meeting towards the end with her lawyers. You really feel for her throughout. It's one of Blanchett's finest performances and any awards hype she gets is truly deserved.
If Blanchett evokes Bacall, the one thought going through my head was how much Rooney Mara reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. Mara's performance as Therese is similarly excellent, really selling the emotional confusion as Therese comes to terms with her feelings for Carol- there's a particularly nice scene where she obliquely discusses it with her boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy) who dismisses it as a 'crush'. What's also lovely is you can see Therese really blossom as a character, starting out as quite naive before becoming more grounded as the film goes on. Therese is in no way a supporting character, she's every bit a lead.
The supporting cast are all good. Lacy and Chandler could easily have come off as brutish macho stereotypes but both put in strong performances as they come to terms with Therese and Carol's relationship, although actions which Harge takes throughout the course of the film undeniably put your sympathy at Carol's feet. There's also a stellar turn by Sarah Paulson (who really should be a better known actress than she is) as Abby, Carol's friend and former lover.
Under a different director and in the hands of a lesser actress, Carol could have come across as a predatory lesbian who grooms the unworldly Therese. Thankfully, whilst Carol is the driving force behind their relationship, there's never any sense of coercion or manipulation. Their relationship is tender, tentative, initially restrained before breaking out into passion. It's real. It's rare to see a relationship between two women that is presented as honestly as it is here (especially when you consider the period setting). That's thanks in no small part to the wonderful script by Phyllis Nagy.
The entire period detail of the film is immaculate, so massive props to the production designer, set decorators, costume, hair and make-up whose combined talents make this a sublime film to look at.
This would work as a great companion piece to Haynes' 2002 film Far From Heaven (starring Julianne Moore, Dennis Haysbert and Dennis Quaid) which similarly took a look at relationships that would have been considered taboo. Both films have the period setting and Douglas Sirk aesthetic, yet quietly subvert them. Both features stand-out performances by their lead actresses and their supporting casts. Both films are a joy for cinephiles.
Rating: 5 out of 5