By Alexandra Boyd, Mutton Club Film Critic
Carol review: A stylish and smart Mad Men Era love story that dare not speak its name…
To be honest, Cate Blanchett could read the phone book aloud and I’d be gripped. Her screen presence is undeniable. That she produced this film as her own vehicle is evident, but she couldn’t have been better cast in Carol. In her Oscar-winning turn in Blue Jasmine, she raised sophisticated middle class desperation to a new art form. In Carol, she pulls it off again, but this time, she’s a woman with a lot more to lose than social and financial status.
The young woman she falls for, played by Rooney Mara, is a gauche doe-eyed young photographer drawn into Cate’s irresistible world while working in a suitably 1950’s drab Christmas-decked department store. She’s the naive Audrey Hepburn lookalike from whose point of view we see Carol’s world crumble, while she becomes inexorably drawn into her life.
The film is a visual treat shot around a beautifully restrained screenplay written by Phyllis Nagy – an adaptation of her friend Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price of Salt. The sets and costumes and the style in which it is shot (on Super16 not HD film) leave no period detail left untold, evoking the photography style of Vivian Maier as we watch 21st century Cincinnati shot for 50’s New York. An easier job than you’d think. Apparently many locations – diners and motels – were just as they were in the 50s.
Frozen in time.
Period colours, Cate’s exquisite costumes, a deep heartbeat of a soundtrack by Carter Burwell and the detailed art direction, immerse us in the claustrophobic and closeted world of two women who fall in love during a time when only paperback novels could coyly suggest a love that was nothing more than immoral.
I was, of course, anticipating the sex scene that’s become ubiquitous in onscreen love story telling. Even independent films fall into the Hollywood trap. I sighed a little when the, all be it beautiful, sequence began. But to my delight the moment was rewarded with a truly meaningful and necessary plot point.
Clever. Unexpected. Perfect.
Despite Todd Haynes‘ reputation as a director who handles with depth, complicated female driven scenarios (Far From Heaven and Mildred Pierce) I would have been interested to know if Cate and the screenwriter, Phyllis Nagy, ever considered hiring a female director. Maybe one more layer could have unfolded before our eyes with the addition of a woman’s voice and vision through the camera lens.
No matter, this love story is an instant classic and with the slew of nominations already in play, is set to be one you’ll want to go and see, to see what all the fuss is about. Order yourself a martini in the bar afterwards to complete the experience. The only thing missing will be the cigarette.
You may also like our other reviews.
Alexandra Boyd‘s been in the film industry for more than 30 years. She’s passionate about film and the roles women play in film – in front of and behind the camera. She spent ten years as an actress in Hollywood where her film credits include James Cameron’s Titanic, Mr Holland’s Opus and Luc Besson’s From Paris With Love. She returned to the UK, and after a stint on Coronation Street, packed it all in to become a screenwriter and film director. Her award winning short film, Boxer On The Wilderness, is a teaser for a feature about a 1920s Olympic boxer from Hackney Wick. She also raises funds and makes short films for GR8 AS U R, an anti-bullying organisation. Widow’s Walk, a supernatural thriller about a woman who lost her husband in Afghanistan, shooting in 2016, will be her debut feature. www.NewThirtyPictures.com @AlexActWrDir