Vinny Thornburg’s review published on Letterboxd:
I'll get this one part out of the way first:
Carol is a beautiful looking film. Rarely did I notice a studio lighting kit, as everything seems to be lit on the natural light of the outdoors, or the cheap ceiling lights of Therese's apartment. When the script allowed it, this really became something.
Now that I've watched two films in three days about love affairs of women in New York in the early 50's, I can easily say this felt more like I was there. The warmth of the ugly painted walls in the department store. The cheap motels. The general clothing choices. Much more authentic.
The reason though that my rating is lower, is I wish they had done more to really show how strong their love is. Yes Carol is a product of her time, and is much more restrained so we can't expect her to show to much. Therese feels like someone who while quiet, should be a little more excited with what she's really dealing with. There's moments where she feels like she's more of an explained character instead of us really seeing it or feeling it ourselves. I don't blame Rooney or Cate, as they are both great and deserve their award buzz.
While plenty of effort is made to really give this film no villains, and when one possibly arises, they make sure they stay human (Therese's boyfriend, and the unremarkable Kyle Chandler), I still wanted to see more development. If you really want to get the full emotional impact, the restraint was a little much. Even for the era.
There's a moment where Cate switches seamlessly between a fake polite smile and a real one. It really straightens the point, and if we had more moments like that, this would be something I could have truly fallen in love with.
The word lesbian is never said. Whether they just never felt the need to label it, or if it was just a curse word in 1952 I'm not sure, but they make sure this is a love story. Knowing no bounds or labels, which only helps legitimize everything it wants to say.
This could have been more, but for what it is, it's still completely worth the watch.