Carol ★★½

In 1950s New York, a relationship develops between older, soon-to-be divorced Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Terese (Rooney Mara), a young aspiring photographer, in Todd Haynes’ romantic period drama co-starring Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, John Magaro and Kyle Chandler.

I’ve never seen a Haynes film before, and although this is the first of his projects he didn’t write there’s a real sense of his distinctive visual style throughout, creating a palpable and often dreamlike atmosphere that frames the story. The period design is fantastic, really capturing the era and making the film look stunning.

There’s a real Sirkian influence in the way everything is shot, positioning the leads behind frames and through glass to convey both their sense of distance from the outside world and a growing connection to each other. The richness of the mis-en-scene allows us to see into the thoughts of the characters, minimising the need for excessive dialogue, everything that needs to be said conveyed in a glance or a setting.

Blanchett gives one of her finest performances here, getting a sense of both Carol’s passion and her inner vulnerability, as she has to choose between her love and her daughter. It’s a role with lots of different aspects and elements which could potentially be hard to pull off convincingly, but Blanchett really embraces the performative style to show Carol’s mannered surface level and the versions conflicting layers underneath.

Though Terese is less active in the story, Mara manages to show her character gradually maturing and gaining agency through her relationship in an understated and layered way. I also thought Chandler did really well as Carol’s husband, giving a potentially one note character more depth, explaining but not justifying some of his actions.

On a technical and performance level the film excels, but I didn’t feel immersed enough in the story, which created a sense of distance from what was going on. I found the characters hard to connect with, and because we don’t find out that much about their lives they remain slightly too inscrutable and a little selfish, and though the leads give great performances they remain slightly underdeveloped.

Because of this, and the abrupt way everything progresses, I was never quite convinced by the central romance, which seemed rushed and lacking a spark. There are some affecting moments, especially in the potent and evocative final shot, which brings everything full circle, but as a whole it was too subdued and under-explored to really take off.

The film is inspired by the melodramas of the 50s, but I don’t think it ever quite came alive, a little too clinical and detached to fully come together, and if there had been more time spent developing the characters separately I think it would have flowed better.

Carol is a beautifully made, fantastically acted period drama that I appreciated, but didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to, as it felt a little too surface level and removed to become fully engaged in.

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