Carol review: ‘An Oscar Pleader that has become a real film’

Cate Blanchett in Carol. Picture: Wilson Webb/Studio Canal

Cate Blanchett in Carol. Picture: Wilson Webb/Studio Canal - Credit: Archant

This adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s autobiographical novel has all the signs of Academy-baiting, but Carol’s small moments, acting and score make for a perfect fit, says Michael Joyce.

Film composer Carter Burwell is, in a field known for its bombast, a master of understatement. His best scores are softly insistent, summoning up a gentle foreboding while at the same time being quietly enticing; they work overtime drawing audiences into the film maker’s vision. He is best known for his work with the Coen Brothers but has found a perfect fit in this ‘50s romance between two women. The discrete way he underscores emotions is ideal for a tale of a love that dare not speak its name, set in a time when a lid was kept on that kind of thing.

In the winter of 1952, the well-to-do Carol (Blanchett) is looking for a Christmas present for her daughter in Manhattan when she catches the eye of shop assistant Therese (Mara). A romance cautiously develops, but it is complicated by her husband’s reluctance to let their marriage end and a custody battle for their child ensue.

Carol is like an Oscar Pleader that has become a real film. It has all the Academy-baiting elements – period setting, liberal agenda, based on a novel and a true story, an autobiographical novel written under a pseudonym by Patricia Highsmith.

And it has Cate Blanchett in it. A Blanchett performance is never a casual or relaxed thing. Carol looks immaculate in every scene, while Blanchett is meticulously controlled in everything she does. And she needs to be: this is a film of small moments and tiny gestures, everything has to be carefully measured. Playing against her, Rooney Mara is almost entirely reactive. She doesn’t need to show you all the effort she is making, she just instinctively gets it right.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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