Feeling very much like a companion piece to his 2002 melodrama FAR FROM HEAVEN, Todd Haynes’ CAROL again sets us in a New York (and Connecticut) winter, and again pits a well-to-do housewife against sociosexual norms of the time. If their stories weren’t taking place five years apart, Carol (Cate Blanchett) and FAR FROM HEAVEN's Cathy could probably have worked wonders by walking to each others houses for tea and support.
Where the taboo on Cathy was even the most subtle contact with a black man, middle-aged Carol - while married and with a daughter - is a closeted lesbian, a fact which her upper-crust husband (Kyle Chandler) finds humiliating and threatening. Though dormant for a time, Carol’s ‘unnatural’ feelings are re-ignited when she is served by the young and uncertain Therese (Rooney Mara) in a department store. It all has the potential to scandalously wrong.
Haynes, Blanchett and Mara are getting the lion’s share of the plaudits for CAROL (and they are all marvellous, with Blanchett’s performance feeling particularly Oscar friendly), but the real winners here are those charged with getting the look of the film right: cinematographer Edward Lachman, production designer Judy Becker, art director Jesse Rosenthal, costume designer Sandy Powell and the swathe of others who've recreated the repressed 1950s Americana from muted pastels, matte fabrics, gentle tungsten and Super 16mm film stock. It's a vast achievement, which together with its two fine central performances elevates CAROL's potentially movie of the week material into something quite special.
CAROL is released November 20 in the US, November 27 in the UK, and January 14 in Australia.