Sometimes less really is more as director Todd Haynes perfectly demonstrates in this, his pared down, restrained film of forbidden love.
It’s a theme he has visited before, but does so here with a touch so sure and deft, it’s like precision surgery with a devastating effect. Carol, based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Patricia Highsmith, looks exquisite, is so redolent of its 1950s’ setting it positively reeks matching twinset, pearls and soft leather gloves, yet it delivers an emotional punch that belies its cosily formal domestic setting.
Carol, (Cate Blanchett – never better) is a New York socialite who moves in a world of cashmere, expensive perfume and department store charge accounts. While out shopping for her daughter’s Christmas present she starts a conversation with a young shop girl, Therese (Rooney Mara channelling her inner Audrey Hepburn) and a spark flares between the two women.
Things are going less smoothly at home for Carol, as she is divorcing her husband (an excellent Kyle Chandler); her predilection for other women – although never actually stated out loud – obviously at the heart of the marriage rift. As the breakdown between husband and wife grows more bitter, the bond between the two women grows stronger. Carol knows she stands to lose everything she values in her life – her social standing, her home and most importantly her child – if she persists in seeing Therese, but like moths to a flame, the two women cannot resist each other.
Shot in the bleary, weary twilight of misty car windows and shop fronts, with the look and feel of a night-time Edward Hopper painting (all world weariness, isolation and a certain reluctant acceptance), Carol works so well because it doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve.
Like the era in which it is set, its feelings are repressed, not spoken of, hidden behind a veneer of formality and social manners, yet when revealed are as raw and passionate as any amour fou.