Carol ★★★★★

A small miracle of a film, about a quiet, emotionally straightforward shopgirl (Rooney Mara) - on the cusp of self-revelation - who falls in love with a middle-aged housewife (Cate Blanchett), herself careening towards divorce.

In 2002, writer-director Todd Haynes made the inspired, delightfully-mannered Far From Heaven, an experiment in which he created a melodrama in the singular style of '50s 'woman's picture' specialist Douglas Sirk, but dealing with subjects that were decidedly off-limits during the postwar years, like adultery or being a gay.

Here, he casts off the cloak of pastiche to revisit the era, creating a blissfully textured, stunningly authentic and seductively realistic portrait of love busting up through the floorboards of stifling conformity. From the bright, rosy, toy store interiors of a New York Christmas to smoky, wood-panelled hotel bars; from a taxi cab dripping in the evening rain to the identikit plastic kitchens of drab, repressive suburbanity, he and cinematographer Edward Lachman capture a very definite sort of Americana: a period of emotional torture and really rather terrific clothes.

Both Blanchett and Mara are superb: there isn't a false note from either of them throughout. It'd be easy for them to go for the big, grandstanding, melodramatic, Oscar-ogling performance, but it'd also be completely artificial. Instead, they just play the characters: with the certainty, the conflicted nature and above all the restraint that's required. Blanchett, with her vivid scarlet lips, is fierce, urbane, sad; the round-faced Mara sweet, deceptively steely and head-over-heels, but with her eyes prised wide open. Those aren't those characters' only facets, though: these are living, breathing creations who act like ordinary people, facing a less than ordinary dilemma. In support, Kyle Chandler is excellent as Blanchett's husband, but he isn't Blanchett-and-Mara excellent.

Perhaps the film's most unexpected virtue, though, is the stunning use of sound, which in turn bewitches, beguiles and disorientates, filtering its period tunes through eerie soundscapes to complement - but never replace or compensate for - the character's inner lives.

The only aspect of the movie that didn't quite work for me at first was a subplot about Blanchett and Chandler's custody battle, but that's probably more to do with my own prejudices than any shortcomings on Haynes and writer Phyllis Nagy's part. I was so wrapped up in the relationship between the lead characters that I wanted to see more of them together, whereas the movie is as interested in examining the broader realities of their dangerous relationship - and the penalties for their perceived transgression. This isn't the stock "I love my kid" device wheeled out by struggling, overworked 1930s screenwriters. Rather, it's what Blanchett's character would undoubtedly have faced in that scenario (minus one perhaps slightly over-the-top detail that impacts on the plot). And ultimately (minus one perhaps slightly over-the-top detail that impacts on the plot), it comes off.

The rest is just sheer perfection. If you haven't seen it, and you like either films or love, you should go before it leaves your nearest poncy cinema. How many other small miracles are you likely to find there?

Rick liked this review