Empire (UK) - - REVIEW - HE­LEN O’HARA

THE CHAL­LENGE for most movie ro­mances is find­ing a rea­son to keep the two peo­ple on the poster apart for the ma­jor­ity of the run­ning time, thereby cre­at­ing ten­sion to carry the au­di­ence to the tri­umphant (or tragic) fi­nale. In hack­neyed melo­dra­mas and weak rom­coms, this in­volves laboured set-ups, out-of-char­ac­ter tantrums and con­trived ob­sta­cles. In Carol, as with di­rec­tor Todd Haynes’ ear­lier Far From Heaven, there are com­pelling rea­sons of so­cial prej­u­dice to en­sure that the two fe­male lovers keep their dis­tance. Still, the need to be to­gether is greater than any ob­struc­tion, and so Carol gets the sweep and power of the best love sto­ries with­out any trace of ar­ti­fi­cial­ity.

But this is not pri­mar­ily a tale of prej­u­dice or fear. It’s a beau­ti­fully un­der­stated study of two re­strained, wary women who be­gin to em­brace a wider way of life. Blanchett is the poised, ap­par­ently per­fect Carol, in the process of di­vorc­ing her none-more-wasp hus­band Harge (Kyle Chan­dler). This Doris Day and Rock Hud­son have a fraught re­la­tion­ship, with his frag­ile pride twisted by her burn­ing need for free­dom and her ex­tra­or­di­nary strength of char­ac­ter.

At this most un­sta­ble time, Carol meets Au­drey Hep­bur­nalike Therese (Rooney Mara), a ten­ta­tively hope­ful shop girl who dreams of be­com­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher. Their courtship is del­i­cate, but driven; Therese can’t ar­tic­u­late her fas­ci­na­tion with this daz­zling fig­ure, but can’t let it go ei­ther. Their in­ti­macy un­folds as they spend a day to­gether, then take a road trip across coun­try. It’s an achingly slow build, told in lit­tle mo­ments. Therese helps a laugh­ing Carol shed her fur coat as she drives; Carol gives Therese a makeover.

The be­hind-the-scenes fea­turettes and in­ter­views on the disc may be patched to­gether from on-stage Q&AS, but they make it clear that this sub­tle, lay­ered ap­proach is very de­lib­er­ate — as was ev­ery as­pect of this care­fully de­signed, gor­geously shot film. Its sheer pe­riod per­fec­tion could be dis­tanc­ing, were it not for Haynes’ abil­ity to echo the magic of Brief En­counter. There’s a sim­i­lar sort of tragedy of man­ners here, where ev­ery­one feels things deeply but no-one ex­presses them­selves clearly. But these char­ac­ters have too much pas­sion to seem dusty or un­in­volv­ing. Love is barely men­tioned in so many words, but it’s there like lava, burn­ing un­der ev­ery scene.

Above: It had been a crack­ing Easten­ders. Be­low: “When you grow up, you can have a film named af­ter you.”

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