Director Todd Haynes seems to belong to another age. His films effortlessly capture the look and feel of the 1950s – the fashions, the furniture and, more than anything else, the cigarettes – not since the days of Bette Davis has a film made the simple act of smoking a cigarette look so downright glamorous. The characters light up everywhere – in restaurants, bars and in the street. (Even staunch anti smokers may leave the cinema longing for a cigarette). Despite its presumably unconscious promotion of nicotine, Carol may just be Hayne’s best movie yet. It’s a love story, a slow burner told at a languorous pace, featuring two fine performances from its lead actors.
Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) works in a department store, but harbours dreams of one day being a professional photographer. One Christmas, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) comes looking for a present for her daughter and Therese sells her a train set. When she leaves, Carol leaves her gloves on the counter (accidentally? On purpose? We’re never quite sure). There is an immediate connection between the two women and when Therese takes the trouble to return the gloves, Carol invites her to lunch. We soon discover that Carol is separated from her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), largely because of an affair she has recently had with Abbi (Sarah Paulson). When Harge discovers the developing friendship between Therese and Carol, he decides to make life difficult for his wife, and claims custody of their daughter. Carol is faced with a difficult decision.
There’s so much to admire here – as well as perfectly judged performances from the cast, there’s glowing cinematography by Edward Lachman, a gorgeous score by Carter Burwell and an intelligent script by Phyllis Nagy, based on an early novel by Patricia Highsmith. The production simply oozes class and I loved the fact that it steadfastly refuses to sensationalise its subject matter. You might argue that there’s more than a passing similarity to Hayne’s 2002 production, Far From Heaven, but when the staging is as swooningly assured as this, it’s a resemblance I’m prepared to overlook.