Todd Haynes’ romantic drama ‘Carol’ takes place during a crisp New York winter in the early fifties and is based upon the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt. Carol (Cate Blanchett) is strong-willed and sophisticated but suffering the trauma of a divorce with her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), which is complicated further by a custody battle for their daughter. Whilst searching for the perfect Christmas present for said daughter, she meets shop worker Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) with whom she embarks on a forbidden relationship. Their romance clashes with the narrow minds of a less accepting time, but can love prevail against adversity?
The plot unfolds at a slow but steady pace, perfectly capturing the nervous excitement and awkwardness of the early stages of a relationship through to the point where Carol and Therese have an almost telepathic bond, expressions often saying more than words can. That’s not to say the script isn’t joyous but sometimes less is more, and the silences are so effective. As good as the characters are, the backdrop they inhabit also deserves a mention. The high production values and attention to prop detail give the cinematography a rich texture and a dreamy glow which feels suited to the subject matter with just enough authenticity.
The success of this adaptation heavily depends on the acting, and Blanchett and Mara more than deliver, the juxtaposition of their performances highlighting the fact that you can’t help who you fall in love with. Carol is an elegant powerhouse, hard on the outside but with a soft, vulnerable centre. Therese on the other hand is wide-eyed and innocent, and has an endearing fragility to her that gives the resemblance of a porcelain doll. The contrast between them adds to their connection which is fascinating to watch in its carefully handled development.
Todd Haynes succeeds in recreating the rigid yet dazzling fifties in a way that illustrates how far we have come in the acceptance of the LGBT community in society, and tells a hugely emotional story in the process. His greatest achievement is in the magnificently nuanced performances he draws from Blanchett and Mara and with awards season underway, ‘Carol’ will be deserved contender. Rooney Mara, in particular, should be a hot favourite in her categories. Her tender portrayal of Therese Belivet is, as Carol describes her lover, ‘flung out of space’.