Wilson’s review published on Letterboxd:
Carol joins the illustrious list of films, Brief Encounter, In the Mood for Love, Brokeback Mountain, All that Heaven Allows, that present almost-doomed love, as the most exquisite. Certainly where cinema is concerned. Nothing fits cinema as artform better than lingering looks and darting glances; Todd Haynes manages to make his film say everything solely with the eyes of his actors.
Carol is about longing and regret, filtered through a creeping sense of unease. It is a surprisingly cold film, autumnal, and presents one of the most evocative presentations of loneliness I can think of; the loneliness of being not quite in place with the rest of the world. Rather than simply being alone. The film is truly beautiful to look at, Haynes has the perfect textured visual sense to capture the 1950s, a 1950s of smoke, and dresses, and Christmas. It is Frank Sinatra working with Nelson Riddle, to watch Todd Haynes work in the 1950s. The film floats and glides like the best of Max Ophuls, while retaining Haynes progressive sensibilities. It is easily the match of his earlier classics Far From Heaven and I'm Not There.
Carol intriguingly invokes Brief Encounter with its structure, opening at a future point in time and swirling its way back threre, so when you see the opening scene re-contextualised it is an achingly, heartbreaking brief hand touch of a sequence. You have to applaud Haynes, because invoking Brief Encounter, one of the best films ever made, is a brave thing to do. He could have left you thinking solely about David Lean, rather than Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Yet, Carol is such an all-involving, underplayed, romantic drama that you barely consider such a classic, that underpins the structure.
What can you say about Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara? They are brilliant. Together and apart within Carol. They both seem to be successfully channelling Hepburns. Blanchett is working with Katharine Hepburn's template, the imperious whiskeyed voice that can honey and shrill in equal measure, she is a statue, that quietly is being shred throughout the film. While, Mara is the next generation's Hepburn, Audrey, gamine features, graceful yet awkward. Mara's voice is pitched higher than Blanchett's, and softer and less sure. The film is a subtle look at generational differences, easy and abstract, and neither woman needs the other to set her free. The way the two leads interact is a beautifully created churn of emotions, the coldness of the direction preventing the story from turning over too far into melodrama, or romance, or lust. It is a restrained film, that has one twist, one switch, that would seem out of place but for Haynes brilliant set-up and withdrawn pay-off.
Outside of the two leads, the acting is generous and well-worked. Kyle Chandler and Jake Lacy are fine as the male leads, Chandler is particularly affecting as the deluded, unreasonable, but not horrible husband of Blanchett; while Sarah Paulson as Blanchett's friend, is great in a terribly understated manner.
Phyllis Nagy's restrained adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt is a real strength of the film. While, Carter Burwell's score pushes Carol into masterpiece status, the score is wonderful throughout, but wait until the breathless final scene, where Burwell's score feels like fingers on your skin. Burwell has long been the best composer in American film, and this just adds another pefect musical turn to his own discography.
Carol is a film good enough to be held akin to Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours; with cigerette smoke, and dreams, and alcohol, and cold, melancholic sadness.
It is a perfect film.
It is the film of the year.