FROM MARCH 21 / CERT. 15 WOMEN IN LOVE
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.”