In the early stages of a relationship, every moment of contact, every glance, every comment is accounted for and scrutinised over; deconstructed in search of a grander meaning. Carol is a profound romantic tale told through such glances and occasional touches: a subtle adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s seminal novel The Price of Salt, brought to the silver screen by the enigmatic, accomplished filmmaker, Todd Haynes – his first film in seven years.
Similarly to another of the year’s most poignant romantic tales in Brooklyn, Carol is also set in 1950s New York, where department store clerk Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) encounters the beguiling, older married woman, Carol (Cate Blanchett). There’s an immediate spark between them, as they navigate their way around one another, trying to sound the other out, and whether any romantic feelings between them are mutual. For both are in relationships with men, though while Therese feels little obligation towards her boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy), the same can’t be said of Carol, confined in a loveless marriage with Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler), bound together still by their young daughter – but beneath the facade is a desperately unhappy woman, seeking more fulfilment in her life.
The romantic drama so often revels in the notion of overstatement, with scenes of lovers running through airport terminals hoping to profess their love before it’s too late, but not in this instance. Haynes thrives in subtlety and nuance, and any such intention is channeled through his two leading stars, with a career-best for Mara and yet another breathtaking turn for Blanchett, that could well see the actress pick up a third Academy Award. There’s a certain glow to this tale though, and while a moving narrative that at times feels devoid of hope, the striking visual experience maintains a sense of optimism – feeling ineffably cinematic, with a grainy aesthetic that enriches the era captured.
Regrettably, tedium does kick in as we approach the latter stages, but it takes little away from this pensive, slow-burning drama that will move and compel in equal measure. It’s also of great commendation that the sexual orientation of the protagonists is presented as a matter of fact; not used as a mere gimmick. Of course it’s a key narrative device, it has to be given the 50s setting, but it’s not explored at the expensive of the most prevalent storyline: the romance. It’s just who these people are, and that’s exactly how it should be.