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Review: Carol

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I have a confession. Sometimes I worry about the readers of these reviews, their gender and their agenda…so I tailor the words and not always say what I really mean. Being tactful is nothing to be ashamed of, but I caught myself searching for a picture of one of the male supporting characters of Carol so as not to alienate any readers. WTF? It turns out that I am scared that male readers won’t read a review about a female-led movie unless they see a picture of a man to pique interest. Shame on me.

Carol is a female-led lesbian melodrama about love, marriage, freedom and doing what one should do rather than what one wants to do. And it’s also more than that. It passes comment on the ramifications of choosing to live by the heart and speaks beautifully on the nature of wanting. The director, Todd Haynes has now made enough movies that I can call Carol typically Haynesian, and this film is extremely evocative of the Fifties era that Haynes loves to bring to our screens with slow-moving panache.

Carol concerns a trapped, married trophy wife (Cate Blanchett) who by chance meets and becomes completely enraptured by young, idealistic pixie-mannered Therese (pronounced Terez) a shop girl with a smaller life. There are other characters circling the narrative, such as Carol’s best friend and former paramour Abby (Sarah Paulson) and Carol’s wonderfully-named brute of a hubby Harge (Friday Night Lights‘ Kyle Chandler), but their role is literally to support the emotional punch packed by the two leads as they fall for one another. Carol and Harge’s little girl Rindy is adored and acts as the MacGuffin here. The tension really mounts when viewers learn that having a lesbian affair is considered not only unnatural but criminal.

Chiefly, what I took from Carol is how pleasurable the journey through these difficult events seemed to be. It is not as snail-paced or frankly, depressing as most of Haynes’ back catalogue. To some extent Carol is a thriller, but those looking for something like novelist Patricia Highsmith’s work on The Talented Mr Ripleymay be disappointed by Phyllis Nagy’s effervescent script. Carol takes the viewer to a time and place and lets them linger.

Blanchett is an actor whose presence can eclipse the most credible of co-stars and of course she shines here, there isn’t much more to say except she’s one of the best at what she does. In Carol I really believe that it is Mara’s wide-eyed expression and careful, intense internal conflict that keeps eyes glued. It is a performance so completely controlled that it warrants multiple nominations. The setting is perfect and Haynes has taken as much detail with the costumes and language as he has with the direction and plotting.

Neither quick nor with any violent emotional pay off, Carol is not as sinister as it may look. Instead its shock-factor is in its truthfulness of a time in recent memory, reminiscent of 2014’s The Imitation Game, plenty of viewers should turn to their neighbours and wonder why life used to be (and in some places still is) so cruel.

Carol is a gorgeous, lovingly crafted piece of visual history and a story that resonates with us all, regardless of our sex. Watch it.

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