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Film review: Carol – Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett impress in lesbian romance

Strong performances from both female leads, with Rooney’s nuanced turn the stand-out, carry this Todd Haynes adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s tale of forbidden love in 1950s America

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 February, 2016, 11:30am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 February, 2016, 3:38pm

After his diversion into television with mini-series Mildred Pierce, Todd Haynes returns to the cinema with Carol. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s story The Price of Salt, it brings Haynes back to the 1950s he so colourfully brought to life with Far From Heaven. While that dealt with a married woman’s affair with an African-American, this is another love story sprung out of marital infidelity.

Cate Blanchett, who last worked with Haynes on the Bob Dylan film I’m Not There, plays Carol Aird, an immaculately attired Manhattan socialite who walks into the life of young department store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara). Close to divorce from her husband (Kyle Chandler), Carol draws closer to this naive would-be photographer, who dreams of a better life amid the wintry landscape of the US east coast.

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While the film touches on issues of sexuality, repression and social hypocrisy, it’s first and foremost a story about the inescapable swoon of love and the pain it can cause. Mara, who won a share of the best actress award in Cannes for her work, is the film’s stand-out performer, eclipsing Blanchett with a beautifully nuanced turn.

Ed Lachman, Haynes’ regular cinematographer, has surpassed himself too, capturing the mood and aesthetics of 1950s New York in a hazy, rain-dappled glow that feels entirely apt for the film’s melancholic mood. Matching this are Sandy Powell’s understated costumes, Carter Burwell’s fine score and the carefully studied production design from Judy Becker.

Nothing is out of sync, and Haynes paints his canvas with consummate skill. In truth, the film lacks an emotional punch in the final reel. But perhaps Carol isn’t a film that requires surface extremes; the torment is captured well enough in the faces of the actors, their characters locked inside an indifferent, inhospitable world.

Carol opens on February 11