Paul Lister’s review published on Letterboxd:
Just re-posting this review with some additional thoughts.
Romance is dead. Long live romance. The romance genre as such is not one I would usually go for in the traditional sense, well at least not the bastardised schmaltz of the Nicholas Sparks variety. Todd Haynes's exquisite 'Carol' is far apart from such dross and such as held a real interest from the moment I first gazed it production stills, an interest that swelled uncontrollably when the wonderful trailers and reviews were released. For Haynes has crafted a truly intoxicating film, a mature film that subtly plays out, feels rich in character and period setting and quite frankly set my heart aflutter through every last minute.
This pitch perfect film does not ram some unbelievable romance down our throats, it very slowly and patiently builds a relationship around it's two characters and the glorious 1950's setting that has been so wonderfully captured. It could be seen as a lesbian drama but I'm not sure I see it like that. Yes, the film is about a same sex romance but as Therese alludes to her male suitor, played by Jake Lacey, why can't two people just be in love with each other? Does it have to be boxed in by terms and phrases to describe it? That also does mean to say that lesbianism or homosexuality isn't a real thing, of course it is, but not all same sex relationships of a physical nature need to be described in such terms. Two of my best friends have been in a same sex relationship for roughly six years now, I would not, and I do not think they would either, describe them as lesbian, bisexual or otherwise. I also never feel like the film plays it like that either, despite Carol's previous history with Sarah Paulson's Abby. That being said there is a side of the film that presents the otherside of this, particularly displayed by Lacey's character, a certain stigma towards people who choose to be involved in same sex relationships. Of course through sheer ignorance and blind fear many people of the time found this sort of thing to be against nature in someway, maybe Lacey's character rather too simplistically sums that up in his reaction to Therese's relationship with Carol. You can't have a film about a same sex couple in the 1950's without alluding to such stigma though, that is how it was, it too a certain degree, still is! In the end I feel it isn't a lesbian drama as such, instead it is a film about two women caught up in a society that wants to pigeonhole their love as such, something that they feel the weight of immeasurably.
Frankly the film from a production standpoint alone is one you could live in, one you could breathe in the intoxicating fumes of. There is often a real warmth to the picture, despite it's wintery setting, the golden brown hues of Edward Lachman's cinematography adding to a rich and luscious image that is hard to resist. The production as a whole just stands up to be counted, the costume design is perfect to a tee, the film's music score by Carter Burwell left me positively swooning out of the cinema, certainly one of my favourite films scores of the year, if not my favourite.
All this and I have not even discussed the other key element that defines it, the performances. It is clear that that everyone involved in this film was committed to the project and had love for the material, starting right from the top Cate Blanchett is utterly commanding as Carol, the woman of which a young store clerk Therese Belivet, played by Rooney Mara, so quickly falls for. Blanchett has been around for a long time now, she has an almost elder stateswoman command of the role, she has a certain grace that is also laced with dry, laconic wit. She is of course also a figment of real beauty and is able to convey her character's feelings and emotions with great subtlety, she is a joy to watch in this form, she can be known to ham it up a bit in some of her more mainstream work but there aren't many finer actresses working today. As for Mara I have been an admirer of hers ever since she made a short but impactful appearance in David Fincher's 'The Social Network', she strikes me as someone who is very selective in her work, she doesn't over expose herself and usually takes on work when the talent is there and the script is right, Joe Wright's 'Pan' excluded. She comes across a bit like the manic pixie dream girl without the manic part, or the needless quirk. Here she is equal to Blanchett and is really the character that the audience follow more often than not. She has an almost mournful look in her eyes, she is a dreamer, a naive young girl pulled into Carol's powerful orbit.
The film plays as one long flashback, it begins with Carol and Therese interrupted by an old friend of Therese who breaks up the union of the two characters. It is not until the end of the film that we understand the heartbreaking context of the meeting. The way in which this meeting is concluded and followed up just sums up how perfectly judged this entire film is. I honestly think I am a little in love with this stunning piece of cinema, Todd Haynes as made something that negates all the tropes of romance that I despise and ends up being everything about cinema that I love. It is a film that is there to live and breathe in and I don't mind for one moment if I get giddy of the fumes. Film of 2015? I would seriously struggle to argue against it.