Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actress (Cate Blanchett) and Best Supporting Actress (Rooney Mara)

With Carol, the American director Todd Haynes returns us to a place similar to the repressed 1950s East Coast universe that he explored in his 2002 film Far From Heaven. It’s historically not long past but this is an emotionally oh-so-distant world, recreated here with exquisite craft, where the big city offers a tiny sliver of hope to those suffocating in the stultifyingly conservative suburbs. This is the story of two women, Carol (Cate Blanchett, staggering) and Therese (Rooney Mara, equally so), strangers who meet on either side of a counter in a Manhattan department store and must choose to face or ignore their feelings for each other, as Haynes examines gay desire and repression.

New poster art for CarolOf course, nobody says the words ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ in Carol, adapted by Phyllis Nagy from a little-known 1952 Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price Of Salt. In fact, no one talks much at all, so hard is it for our main characters to say what they’re thinking – or to even know what they’re thinking.

Head-turning in a glamorous fur coat (Sandy Powell’s costumes are a dream), Carol is a suburban wife and mother going through a divorce. She is Christmas shopping when she spots twentysomething Therese, a store clerk and aspiring photographer who won’t commit to her keen male suitor. The attraction is immediate and mutual, initially haltingly expressed via the few seconds of a transaction. The pair’s subsequent friendship challenges Therese to confront feelings that she may not have even dared to consider before.

Gestures, looks and touches carry enormous weight, and Blanchett and Mara, both excellent, invite micropscopic readings of their every glance and movement. Much of the film is a loaded dance of desire so that, when it finally comes, a kiss has rarely been so well earned. This is a subtle, exquisitely designed drama that’s calibrated like an expensive watch, its moving parts working in quiet, unshowy harmony. It’s far from melodramatic, even when the plot takes some surprising, eventful turns. And Carol also differs from Far From Heaven in that its careful, beguiling colour scheme is muted, leaning heavily on greens and greys and sidestepping bright colours. It moves with a stealthy precision, rarely letting its emotions run over but, crucially, inviting a graceful punch in the air in its choking, triumphant final moments.

– Dave Calhoun, Time Out

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