Steady your beating hearts and hide them away for Carol is about to steal it… Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Price of Salt, Todd Haynes brings this post-war tale of forbidden Fifties love to exquisite reality in Carol. So now we understand why this film caused such a stir at Cannes…
The film opens with an interruption, an intrusion – both from us as the audience and a bumbling gent who recognises one of the two stylish women, who sit at a table in a busy restaurant, entranced by each other, by a conversation we haven’t heard. The older woman gets up to leave, leaving the younger to her friend and so they part. And so we begin the beautiful and heartache inducing love story of Carol and Therese.
Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) sighs her way through her retail working days, with a mind’s eye tempting her towards a more stimulating path – namely not selling dolls. She’s a photographer, drawn to the beautiful but not to people and portraiture. And then, all red lips and furs, Carol (Cate Blanchett) glides into the picture amidst the Christmas crowds of her high end New York department store. You can almost hear Therese’s heart stop as this graceful, refined and instantly alluring woman emerges by the train set, an almost comical introduction considering what will befall the two. A pair of forgotten gloves later, and Therese and Carol are off on their adventure…
Carol Aird is a loving mother and a tired wife to Harge (Kyle Chandler), in the midst of a divorce for the shamed crime of loving another. The other we later find out to be her best friend, Abby (Sarah Paulson). Now friends, much to the disdain of Harge, Carol confides in her about the friend she has found in the beautiful, wide-eyed yet wonky fringed Therese. As Harge drives the wedge deeper with their impending divorce, and Therese is driven further away by her hapless boyfriend’s impromptu marriage proposal, the two hit the road upstate.
The burgeoning passion lies deep, barely noticed until way into the action, only felt and seen in their eyes when they look upon each other, until they finally reach their long awaited embrace. A simple touch of the shoulder is enough to send visible shivers down Therese’s spine – and, to be fair, most likely most of the audience. Mara and Blanchett are simply superb together.
But of course, we must remember we are fighting the repression and prejudice of Fifties America. Their love is forbidden, a reality Carol must face as her divorce proceedings continue with the threat of banning her from seeing her young daughter, but a realisation that makes Carol all the more affecting.
Subtle and sensual with an ending and a closing look that will leave you breathless, Todd Haynes and his expert cast deliver an incredible feast for the eyes and the soul – and a true festival highlight.
The 59th BFI London Film Festival took place from 7-18 October.