Director: Todd Haynes
Major Players: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler
Out Of Five: 4.5
Sooner or later I need to get round to reading a Patricia Highsmith novel. And I’d better make it sooner, because the number that hasn’t been turned into films is diminishing. The Talented Mr Ripley is one of my all-time favourite movies, there’s its first cousin The Two Faces Of January and, much earlier, Strangers On A Train. Now comes Todd Haynes’ Carol, based on the novel The Price Of Salt. Puzzled by the title? Think of Lot’s wife …….
Set in 1950s America, we’re on Haynes’ favourite territory. He has an on-going love affair with the period, as witnessed by Far From Heaven (his Douglas Sirk homage from 2002) and his TV mini-series Mildred Pierce (2011). This time the focus is on the relationship between two women, the wealthy and sophisticated Carol of the title (Cate Blanchett) and department store assistant Therese (Rooney Mara). Carol is married with a young daughter but is in the throes of divorcing her husband, Therese has aspirations to be a photographer. And, this being the 50s, their attraction has to be not just unspoken but secret.
The film opens with the pair in a restaurant. We don’t know the story beforehand, but that’s soon to be revealed, nor do we know what’s going to happen next. But it turns out to illustrate something that Carol says in a letter during the course of the film, that everything comes full circle. And the film’s structure is as beautifully crafted as everything else.
Because this is very much a labour of love in just about every sense. It’s breathless and breath taking with a heady, almost intoxicating feel about it, one that makes you feel like you’re floating on air. The cinematography presents us with some exquisite images, each frame a little work of art in its own right, all courtesy of Haynes’ regular Edward Lachman. They’re so good I’m already worried about Roger Deakins making it 13th time lucky this year when the Oscars roll around. But this isn’t a film that’s just about the cinematography. It’s the proverbial whole package.
The clothes (thanks to the brilliance of costume designer Sandy Powell) are immaculate, from Carol’s opulent furs to Therese’s less flamboyant dresses, and the décor reeks of the period, down to the gaudy red and yellow taxi cabs. And the main performances are fabulous. While Blanchett’s is getting the most attention, Mara is more than her equal. Because of the conventions of the day, their looks have to speak far louder than any words and they are, indeed, amazingly eloquent without looking in the least posed or artificial. A word also for Kyle Chandler, who plays perhaps the most difficult role in the film, Carol’s husband. He’s a man pulled in all directions: he still loves his wife, still wants to be married to her but can’t cope with her preference for women or her rejection of him. Hurting and in pain, he tries to make his wife suffer as well, by trying for full custody of their daughter. He’s not a bad man, just one struggling with his world being turned upside down. And there’s a definite parallel with Ben Whishaw’s character in Suffragette.
After the first week of the LFF, I was starting to worry. I’d seen some good films, but nothing that genuinely excited me. Then I saw Carol. And it’s definitely my Best Of The Fest. So far, that is……
Carol was screened at the London Film Festival on 14, 15 and 17 October and is released around the UK on 27 November. It will be reviewed on Talking Pictures on 22 October.