Thursday 3 December 2015

Film: 'Carol'

I had exalted hopes for this for a number of reasons. If it doesn't quite attain my aspiring wishes it doesn't come short by much.

What it has going for it is:-
Cate Blanchett
Director Todd Haynes
Book by Patricia Highsmith
Music by Carter Burwell

All come together to make a far above-average product.

I've read the Patricia Highsmith book twice, a writer who has been one of my favourite authors for just about all my life since I started serious adult reading. Her novel was originally called 'The Price of Salt' and published in 1952 under a pseudonym (only reluctantly agreed to by the author) because it was felt that the lesbian love story at its heart, truly remarkable for its time, would damage the sales of her other novels, she being an already established writer (most famously then, as now, for 'Strangers on a Train', the murder-swap thriller filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, who, being Hitch, altered it so that the camp, unmarried, mother-loving, father-hating one of the pair of potential murderers [played by thrice-married Robert Walker] was the 'evil' one; the other, portrayed as a 'safe' heterosexual, being a duped innocent [actually played by the gay Farley Granger]. The original Highsmith novel is much more ambiguous about both men).
Anyway, 'Carol' is not in the same vein. It's basically a romance, gently paced and subtly developed.  

Carol is Cate Blanchett, an affluent divorcee, who comes into the toy department of a large store, looking for a doll for her daughter. She is served by assistant Therese, (Rooney Mara, whom we last saw in a major role as the title figure in the American re-make of the Swedish 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' in 2011. The difference between her role then and this one is astonishing. Here she is the quieter one of the couple). From their initial meeting, unspoken, lingering glances are exchanged. Carol is fighting her ex-husband for shared custody of their young daughter. He wants to have sole care because of Carol's alleged past liaison with another woman (not Therese, at least not yet). Carol and Therese (who is living with her boyfriend) meet up again and their friendship grows into an affair. (There is one brief bedroom scene, not too specific).

Being the early 1950s, there is a lot of smoking. Interior decors are in tasteful cafe-au-lait and dark choc. Music is unobtrusive. Being mainly set during Christmas season there are one or two Xmas records of the time on the soundtrack. Fair enough.
There are only two or three scenes where voices are raised, all involving Carol, but containing none of the hyperactivity and hysteria that characterised her deservedly Oscar-winning turn in Woody Allen's 'Blue Jasmine'.

Director Todd Haynes has one really major film to his credit so far. I regard his 'Far from Heaven' (2002) as one of the ten or so best films of the last twenty years. If you haven't seen it you really must. Having Julianne Moore in the lead part should be enough to persuade any doubters.

What slightly let me down about 'Carol' was that I didn't think it came properly alive until about halfway through - though when it did it was superb. I don't know why I felt it to have been so inert at first, though my own fatigue could well have been the culprit. I had a very poor night's sleep last night so I wasn't at my most receptive. It would really need me to watch this film again to confirm the way I felt - and I certainly wouldn't in the least mind sitting through it once more.

There's talk of another Oscar nomination for Cate Blanchett. I'd have no real argument with that, though in this role she isn't required to display quite the range of emotions as she did in 'Jasmine'. If she does get it again I won't be a complainer.

An extremely good film, then, without being quite as exceptional as I'd hoped. When I do watch it again it could be that I'd wish to revise my present rating upwards. Nevertheless, even now I'd warmly recommended it - and anyway, it's not often we see a drama with two, maybe three, of the principal stars being women....................................7.5.


  1. I am going to see this. 7.5 is a good review. Will report back!!!

    1. I hope you'll be telling me that I have indeed under-rated it, Sol. As though I needed it, it will confirm that I ought to see it again.

  2. I do want to see this one; Haynes makes beautiful films, in both style and content. 'Far From Heaven' is just heartbreakingly good.

    1. He captures the 1950s atmosphere perfectly, Bob (and I remember it!) with his sepia tinted shots - and this a film to relish visually. But, of course, it's so much more than just that..

  3. It's a beautiful film Ray and CB is as good as I expected. I liked the rather slow 50's pace very much. It drew me in completely.

    1. I've been hoping for someone to tell me that I was being a tad unfair in my opinion, Craig, and you could well have done it. I really want to see it again now.

      Incidentally, I've only just seen that C.B. has been nominated for the Golden Globe for her role here - and that's just fine with me.

  4. oh - we did have similar reviews, didn't we?