Carol Review: Beautifully Understated Romance

Director: Todd Haynes

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson

The Overview

Set in New York in the 1950s, young shop clerk Therese (Mara) meets and subsequently falls in love with the enigmatic Carol (Blanchett), an older, married woman, who puts her whole family at risk to be with Therese.

The Good

There is absolutely loads to love about this film! It is quite simply gorgeous to look at. It is a simple, understated story, and the soft focus used really helps to reflect this. Interestingly, it was also shot on authentic 16mm stock, which gives it that grainy feel, immediately transporting you back to the 1950s era in which it is set. This is such a simple thing but it really takes the look of the film to the next level; I recently reviewed Steve Jobs, which also used time authentic stock and helped to elevate the film to superior standards.

Carol is achingly beautiful, subtle and full of quiet emotion. All of the feeling is in what we don’t see and don’t hear. So much is said with a simple look or a brief touch. There are several shots where part of the scene is obscured, and mirrors and windows are used to great effect. This made me feel like I was never really seeing the full picture of their relationship, and also emphasises the forbidden nature of their love.

Rooney Mara is absolutely superb, captivatingly beautiful with the most wonderfully expressive eyes, and Blanchett is in top form as always. The scenes of nudity are very brief and in no way gratuitous; the soft focus actually makes it really beautiful rather than erotic.

Whilst on paper they may seem like an unlikely pairing, the chemistry between Blanchett and Mara as Carol and Therese is positively electric, so much so that you can almost feel it coming through the screen. This film gave me real goosebumps more times than I could count, and it wasn’t through the score (although this was beautiful), or even any of the dialogue, as already mentioned, a look, a touch, a facial expression was simply all that was needed to tell this beautiful story.

This is something I don’t normally pick up on, but the costumes in Carol are absolutely stunning. There are two very distinct looks; the glamorous Carol, and the plain Therese. They both work so well, contrasting beautifully and again adding to that authenticity. The costumes are so beautiful that it is almost a shock when they’re not there! As Mark Kermode put it in his review, “…in moments of nakedness it is not the presence of flesh but the absence of costume that startles.”

The Bad

There is very little to fault here, which is a good thing really! There was one terribly cheesy movie trope which I’d happily never see again. I’ll simply call it “conveniently timed snow”, and leave it at that! When everything else was so subtle, this left a slightly sour taste. However it was one moment, and I probably would have forgotten about it if I hadn’t written it down in my notes.

The supporting cast, definitely aren’t bad, but when there are two flawless performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, it is a bit of a struggle for anyone else to stand out. Kyle Chandler performs his role well, but the supporting cast is definitely in the shadow of it’s two outstanding leading ladies.

The Verdict

I saw this movie and you should too. It is quite simply a beautifully told story, shot in a stunningly authentic way, with two fabulous lead performances. It is surprisingly festive as well, so a great film to enjoy on a cold December evening. I’d put money on this being a big Oscar contender, so make sure you go and see it as soon as you can!

Agree with everything I’ve said, or am I a terribly misguided idiot who has got it all wrong? Please let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share as well.


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