“Oh Carol,” Chuck Berry once sang, “don’t let him steal your heart away.” Or her, in the case of this romance based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt.
Carol tells of an affair between two women in 1950s New York, meticulously played by Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett, who deserves an Oscar for her performance (but will no doubt lose to Meryl Streep for her five-minute cameo in Suffragette). Crackling with clandestine chemistry, the laconic leads are supported by Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson, reprising her American Horror Story role of “lesbian”.
Beautifully directed by Todd Haynes, the film looks like a dream (as in a gorgeous haze, rather than full of school teachers with reptile heads), as aesthetically flawless as Cate Blanchett’s face. The screen glows in gentle reds and muted greens, with yearning shots through car windows and a lingering focus on the briefest of looks. Time stands still for each glance loaded with longing, every touch a perfect moment of transgression.
The flip side of this subtlety is that the drama is subdued and the story tapers slightly towards the end. This is a result of the central relationship being stifled by social circumstances and obligations to the patriarchy, sometimes making it hard to watch, yet always easy to look at. An unusually melancholy addition to the festive canon, this is one Carol that won’t make you despise Christmas.