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Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara shine in Todd Haynes's beautiful, 1950s-set Patricia Highsmith adaptation

With 'Carol', the American director Todd Haynes returns us to a place similar to the repressed 1950s East Coast universe that he explored in his 2002 film 'Far from Heaven'. It's historically not long past but this is an emotionally oh-so-distant world, recreated here with exquisite craft, where the big city offers a tiny slither of hope to those suffocating in the stultifyingly conservative suburbs. This is the story of two women, Carol (Cate Blanchett, staggering) and Therese (Rooney Mara, equally so), strangers who meet on either side of a Manhattan department store counter and must choose to face or ignore their feelings for each other as Haynes examines gay desire and repression.

Of course, nobody says the words ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ in 'Carol', adapted by Phyllis Nagy from a little-known 1952 Patricia Highsmith novel, 'The Price of Salt'. In fact, no one talks much at all, so hard is it for our main characters to say what they’re thinking – or to even know what they’re thinking. Head-turning in a glamorous fur coat (Sandy Powell's costumes are a dream) Carol is a suburban wife and mother going through a divorce and, we later learn, on the verge of ostracism by her family and friends because of her past relationship with a woman.

Carol is Christmas shopping when she spots twentysomething Therese, a store worker and aspiring photographer who won't commit to her keen male suitor. The attraction is immediate and mutual, initially haltingly expressed via the few seconds of a transaction. The pair's subsequent friendship challenges Therese to confront feelings that she may not have even dared to consider before. Not knowing oneself is a refrain: 'I barely know what to order for lunch,' says Therese. Later she admits, 'I don't know what I want; I always say "yes" to everything.'

Gestures, looks and touches carry enormous weight, and Blanchett and Mara, both excellent, invite micropscopic readings of their every glance and movement. Much of the film is a loaded dance of desire so that, when it finally comes, a kiss has rarely been so well-earned. This is a subtle, exquisitely designed drama that's calibrated like an expensive watch, its moving parts working in quiet, unshowy harmony.

It's far from melodramatic, even when the plot takes some surprising, eventful turns. And 'Carol' also differs from 'Far From Heaven' in that its careful, beguiling colour scheme is muted, leaning heavily on greens and greys and sidestepping bright colours. It moves with a stealthy precision, rarely letting its emotions run over but, crucially, inviting a graceful punch in the air in its choking, triumphant final moments.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Release date: Friday November 27 2015
Duration: 118 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Todd Haynes
Screenwriter: Phyllis Nagy
Cast: Cate Blanchett
Rooney Mara
Kyle Chandler

Average User Rating

3.6 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:4
  • 4 star:10
  • 3 star:4
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:2
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The natural and sympathetic Rooney Mara acts the mannered and cold Cate Blanchett off the screen in this film about two women coming to terms with the consequences in 1950s America of being lesbians. Mara's thoughtful Therese may seem to be seduced by the older Blanchett character of Carol (rich, elegant and seemingly dazed throughout the film) but this is more than a coming-of-age and self-discovery movie. The plot goes off-kilter at times and there are too many closeups of Blanchett looking nearly frozen-faced, as well as a wasted Kyle Chandler as her constantly threatening husband, but every scene with Mara is mesmerising. If only the film had been named 'Therese' instead of 'Carol'.


This is a film that really draws you in from the opening scene - slowly, gently and seductively. It's not fast paced or loud and it doesn't shout 'gay rights' or oppression or anything like that; it simply tells a story, beautifully and inquisitively and enfolds you into it's embrace.


I am a massive fan of cate blanchett since blue jasmine. This was another stellar role for her! You were transported to the 1950s and you felt the pure emotion of the film and Rooney Mara played one of the roles of her career.


This has just been voted the best gay film ever by a group of film industry people for Flare, the LGBT London film festival. I’m not sure that I would go that far, but it is an excellent movie. The story is simple but moving. The depiction of the 1950s is beautiful. The characters are well rounded. Their situation is sad and credible. The story must have been shocking when it was first published in 1952; I admire Patricia Highsmith for her bravery. #TOTastemaker


Wonderful film, and more than worthy of all the nominations it's received for various awards. Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara are both wonderful. It is, however, a typical Blanchette role - real life type scenarios, which can seem quite slow sometimes. 


A beautiful film about love appearing where you least expect it. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play such different characters, both holding their own throughout the film. Although the movie seems quite slow paced, the story keeps drawing you in.  

now i understand why CAROL is being showered with all the film awards and nominations. it's sublime. Phyllis Nagy's script is beautifully structured and seamless with simple one liners which will haunt you for hours after you've left the cinema. Carol's short but powerful speech to her husband during the divorce scene is heartbreaking, i could just go on about endless detail in the writing of the script which is a haven of subtlety. then Todd Haines decides to film it on proper 16mm film. wow! the grain! the immensity of pondering close-ups on both women, the shots behind all types of blurry glass, the observational camera, the silences... and that last scene, those last shots... i stayed on my seat until the very end of the credits and on my way out two women were kissing long and hard in the cinema and they couldn't care less if the usher had put the lights up and wanted to clean the place. they were having their moment and i wanted to know their story... Cate Blanchett had not had a really good part since ELIZABETH, in 1999, and i started to wonder whether that was it, whether she was ever going to shine again. all she got was all these badly written or half-baked characters, but then BLUE JASMINE came along and now CAROL will certainly cement her credibility as one of the greatest of her generation. and she was perfectly matched with the wonderful Rooney Mara, which for a split second during the film became the spitting image of Audrey Hepburn. Todd Haynes had already punched us in the stomach with FAR FROM HEAVEN and well before that with POISON in 1991. When I grow up I want to be a film director like him.

Surely the most overrated film of the year. Haynes puts us through what feels like four hours of back-to-back cinematic cliches (in fact it's only two hours long). OK, it's mostly a good-looking film, but in a very try-and-tested, unimaginative way. OK, a huge proportion of films are made for adolescent boys, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with making films for adolescent girls, as this surely is. Haynes plays to that audience - and their sense of injustice - through use of stereotypical, two-dimensional (in fact cartoon-like) patriarchal characters. The women, of course, are absolutely lacking in any character flaws; any lapses can be explained as a reaction to the impositions of the evil patriarchs. 

The praise that has been heaped on Haynes for this film only goes to show how easy that is to gain in a climate where feminism sells. Confirming privileged young women's self-deceptions of how badly done-by they are is a sure way to success - even if it's necessary to turn to an era (the 1950s) where it is much easier to conceive of repressive social illiberalism. This era produced thousands of films depicting idealised hetero-sexual romance, most of which dross is now long forgotten. This film, with its equally idealised, painfully laboured, lesbian romance, will go the same way.


Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara deliver a wonderful performance in this simple and well told love story. I really liked the photography, the colours, the clothes and how the differences between the two characters came out. A great tale about love and passion. One of the must-see films of 2015, perfect for a winter week night.

I really like Cate Blanchett - she's yet to better her superb performance in 'Notes on a Scandal'.  But, like Sarah G, and also John C (both below). I was bored.  In fact, I was bored to the point I had a snooze, came round,and it still wasn't any better.  Visually attractive, but dull.  One star.  (And I can't remember the last time I rated a film that low.)



I know I should love this film. Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara give fantastic performances. The film is beautiful to watch & costume & setting wise is perfection. The story is important - repression, misogyny, social mores etc, but sadly I was a bit bored. It's overlong & a bit too slow for me I'm afraid.

How a Time Out critic can say this film is 'far from melodramatic' beggars belief. Todd Haynes has made something of a career out of making melodramas and is openly inspired by Douglas Sirk, who made a shedload of them.

This film is beautifully crafted and acted, although the pacing is a problem and it could do with a few moments of humour to vary the mood a bit. I agree with other reviewers that the themes of repression don't feel that relevant now, so it's not as moving as it would like to be.

It's still good though, but it would be nice to see critics applaud other types of films as much as they lap up dramas.

Staff Writer

This had all the hallmarks of a great film – a story with two complex female characters, strong actors playing both (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara), beautiful cinematography, costumes and set design – but it left me a bit cold. The languid pace might be partly to blame, but mainly the characters didn't come fully to life. I loved Far From Heaven and felt this was disappointing by comparison.

moderatorStaff WriterTastemaker

A slow-paced but beautifully executed movie that really engages the viewer with the story. Great performances from both Blanchett and Mara.

An adult film that does not kowtow to young people..Excellent film adaptation of the Highsmith novel..The film is infused with the sepia brown of the dull,men dominated 1950s.It is not just a love story,but also a narrative on the social restrictions of that era.The cinematography is first class,complementing the film's tender sadness.The director allows the film to be slow paced and thoughtful. Blanchett is competent,but Mara is superb in her character.Her acting is moving,introverted and filled with softness.A perfect Monday evening film to see alone.4 stars


Carol is a beautifully shot film. The colour temperature, attention to detail and enduring moments of silence extracting the tiniest of nuances in the actors performances. The cast are fantastic and the world entirely believable thanks in no part to the excellent costume design. The screening I saw had a discussion with Sandy Powell (costume designer) prior to the film and, due to it being fresh in my mind, I realised I had never been so observant of costume design in a film. 

Having adorned it with praise, I think that the story line was a bit flat. It was solid and did what it said on the tin but it lacked pace and tension. Although intelligently thought out and achingly beautiful, it didn't quite live up to the hype for me.  

A beautiful, intelligent, heart wrenching, film about falling in love. The cinematography is simply stunning (Saul Leiter influence) perfectly capturing the feel of 1950s New York. Rooney Mara is totally captivating. Cate Blanchett delivers her best performance yet. The soundtrack is wonderful too! I agree with TimeOut - it's the best movie of the year - go see it!


This was a really interesting film with a lot of subtleties from the leading ladies Cate Blanchet and Rooney Mara. It was a very simple and delicate love story, but there was also a lot of pain and times of heartbreak as the story unfolded. It was set in the 50's which was done well, and all the details really added to the story. I'm not sure if I would recommend to all as I think it might be slow-paced for some, but definitely a fascinating and beautiful watch!


Taken from a Patricia  Highsmith novel of the 1950's. This is a simple love story which would have been unconventional & "shocking" in the 1950's.

Today the story is totally unshocking & unfortunately totally uninteresting. Worth seeing only for the performance from Cate Blanchet . The film is arty in a rather obvious & pretentious fashion. Many scenes seem to be under-lit , faces are in shadow, scenes are sometimes slightly out of focus all of which is rather distracting, and unsatisfactory. 


I was passing by the posters in the tube with ‘masterpiece’ printed on it. I thought ‘what a cliché’ can’t they come up with some better words to describe a good film?’

But after seeing it, I must say it’s hard to find right words to describe it without trivializing. It’s such a beautiful film on so many levels. It’s sad and tragic story of self-discovery, loneliness and phoniness, while visually it’s a feast for the eyes. Staring with the costumes, through colours and tones used to the locations, every detail of the film is worked to an absolute perfection. The cinematography is very poetic, as if you were watching a collection of Edward Hopper’s paintings on a screen. That plus the music and you can’t get this film out of your head for a very long time. Pure magic.