Film review: Carol

Earlier this week I was delighted to be able to go along to The Pool‘s screening of Carol, followed by a Q&A with producer Elizabeth Karlsen and journalist Helen O’Hara. Carol was my LFF ‘one that got away’ – it was replaced by Trumbo, which I enjoyed a great deal, but I still felt the sting of the missed opportunity.

I remember seeing Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven in the cinema, and being blown away by its loveliness, by the graceful weaving of oppressive sadness between layers of beautifully arranged fabric. I didn’t have any doubts that Carol would be just as gorgeous, if not more so; Karlsen commented afterwards that she thought this was “Todd at the top of his game”, and I can see why. Haynes communicates in the language of sensation; he captures in just a few seconds the headiness and distraction of falling in love, the drifting in and out of focus. His storytelling has a consistently dreamlike quality, though the finely detailed and precise workmanship is always evident; Karlsen made a point of the incredibly prescriptive shotlisting which allowed the film to be shot in just 35 days. It’s not hard to believe that this was all meticulously, lovingly planned down to the last exquisitely styled stitch and button.

Both leads are excellent; Blanchett makes thorough and judicious use of that Galadriel-honed mysterious smile, and Mara’s other-worldliness is perfect for the angel who “fell from space”. And yet…. and yet.

As much as I wanted to love Carol, I couldn’t summon up more than an affectionate fondness. The tenderness between privileged Carol and awkward Therese is appealing and lovely, but while I understand the relationship from the latter’s perspective – Carol overwhelms her senses, and indeed ours – I don’t quite buy into the love story. It’s not clear that they even really like each other; of course, given the time, the place and the very real threat of their illegal relationship there was no way to have any public declarations andmost conversations would be heavily loaded. But the result is a little smothering – I longed to see them simply laugh together, just once. Conversely, “Aunt” Abby’s (a great Sarah Paulson) long-dead romantic relationship with Carol – now a deep and passionate friendship – was fascinating; I desperately wanted to see a film about their history.

If Carol were a food, it would be dessert. But, for all its Michelin-starred care, it wouldn’t be a complex, deconstructed trifle with a feather on top. It would be rice pudding, but the best rice pudding in the world: dreamy, thick; full of cream and vanilla fragrance, with the bittersweet edge of cinnamon. You’d scoop up bite after bite, revelling in its richness and rolling it around your mouth. You’d feel the warmth spreading from your core. You’d savour each tooth-clinging mouthful. But it would only be when you came to the end, scraping the last grains from the bowl, that you’d realise you’re dying for a different texture: a crystal sip of ice water or perhaps the alien crunch of a nut. Carol is sumptuous, and visually glorious and its success can only help drive change in an industry that badly needs to see beyond the tentpole releases and exceptional white male stories. But it also feels as slippery as silk, with a lack of anything really substantial to hold on to.

Many thanks to The Pool for the chance to see the film and enjoy the excellent Q&A afterwards.

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