Women in love

Impeccably acted, beautifully designed and photographed, and at times unbearably arch – a designation that could also apply to the works of Patricia Highsmith, upon whose semi-autobiographical 1952 novel The Price of Salt (originally credited to the pseudonymous Claire Morgan) the film is based.

It is, for all its attributes, a soap opera, one less ironic than it is haughty, and even smug at times. It’s so consumed with, and overwhelmed by, haute couture that the story – which isn’t all that surprising – tends to lose its bearing.

Cate Blanchett, along with real-life husband Andrew Upton among the film’s executive producers, is glamour personified as Carol Aird, a well-heeled New York society wife attracted to Rooney Mara, as department-store clerk (and wideeyed naif) Therese Belivet. This being the 1950s, homosexuality is still a matter firmly ensconced in the proverbial closet.

The attraction is instantaneous and, predictably, not without inevitable consequences. Blanchett, who sometimes appears to be doing a Tallulah Bankhead

impression (quite well, actually), has a tendency to bat her eyes at any female character within range, not just Therese. So much for discretion. And, although she’s desperate to retain custody of her young daughter, she scarcely gives it a second thought when the opportunity presents itself for her and Therese to spend some romantic time together away from the city.

Carol is, admittedly and unabashedly, a melodrama – a specialty of director Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven, HBO’s Mildred Pierce), yet for all the surface trappings and Edward Lachman’s lush cinematography, the drama is almost as constrained as the main characters are by the ‘50s status quo. Almost by default, Carol’s estranged husband (Kyle Chandler, doing a lot with a little) brings the most potent flashes of passion and energy to the proceedings – yet he’s ostensibly the antagonist.

Carol opens Friday !

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