|'It's Mara who emerges as Carol's real star, delivering a nuanced performance that will linger longest after the film's close'.|
Amongst its other more overt thematic notes, photography is key to Carol both in its role within the narrative and in its technical crafstmanship. Therese (Rooney Mara), an aspiring photographer at the start of the film, confesses that she finds it intrusive to take pictures of others, making it all the more significant when she is naturally inclined to photograph Carol (Cate Blanchett) relatively early on in their relationship. Little touches such as this typify Carol at its strongest.
Perhaps even more important is the photographic artistry that has gone into Todd Haynes' film. Carol is regularly beautiful to look at, cinematographer Edward Lachman achieving a sumptuous aesthetic that evokes the 1950s setting of the story whilst retaining an appealing contemporary feel. The use of red and green throughout is intriguingly linked to shifts within the plot, giving Carol an authentic and distinctive palette whilst also keeping your eyes alert to what the changing hues might signify. Note the shade of paint that Therese uses to decorate her apartment at the start of the third act, for example, whilst considering how it links to the events at the close of the second.
The same-sex relationship at the centre of Carol would undoubtedly have been seen as radical - scandalous, even - when the novel upon which Phyllis Nagy's screenplay is based, Patricia Highsmith's The Price Of Salt, was first published in 1952 (Highsmith originally chose to write under a pseudonym for this very reason). There's no doubt either that Nagy presents a believable recreation of how such a relationship would be treated by society at the time.
But this isn't enough when Haynes presents the romance between the two women in such a conventional fashion. The director takes his time with the story, something which eventually pays off but makes the opening act feel both drawn out and lacking anything genuinely attention-grabbing. The first real drama arrives forty-five minutes in, and from here Carol does become more engaging. The director shies away from exploring a number of potentially interesting plot points, however - the relationship alluded to at several points between Carol and Abby (Sarah Paulson), who we learn she has been friends with since childhood, feels potentially more interesting than anything else on offer here, but is left largely undeveloped.
Blanchett is reliably assured, and Kyle Chandler as Carol's soon-to-be-ex-husband Harge does well to ensure the character never becomes the villain of the piece. It's Mara who emerges as Carol's real star, delivering a nuanced performance that will linger longest after the film's close. But despite the talented cast, beautiful photography and aesthetic accomplishment, Haynes' ordinary approach to a tale of forbidden love holds his film back from fulfilling the excellence it potentially could have achieved.
Carol is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 21st March 2016.