Todd Haynes arrives in Cannes with Carol, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, superbly adapted by Phyllis Nagy. Carol shares familiar territory with Haynes’ Far from Heaven and Mildred Pierce, all of them about strong women struggling against the norms and restraints of the times they live in.

Therese (Rooney Mara) is saucer-eyed and gamine, off to her job in the toy department a Manhattan store. One of her joys is the electric train set. We see that one of the figures waiting at the toy station looks very like Therese and the theme of journeys is a constant thread. Therese first glimpses the cool and sophisticated Carol (Cate Blanchett) playing with the set, and when Carol accidentally stops the train in its tracks, she has the same effect on Therese. Although constantly proclaiming that she is indecisive, when Therese meets Carol she knows exactly what she wants.


Therese is in a sexless relationship with Richard (Jake Lacy) while Carol is getting a divorce from Harge (sympathetically played by Kyle Chandler) and lives with their young daughter. When Harge bitterly initiates a custody battle, Carol and Therese take off on a road trip for the Christmas holidays. The women consummate their relationship in Waterloo, and this could well be their own Waterloo: a detective has tailed and taped them on behalf of Harge and their relationship looks like it has to end immediately after it has begun. What stands out, however, are not the love scenes but the age difference; Carol’s wooing of Therese is somewhat predatory. The next stage of the women’s journey is arduous and full of difficult choices.

The film is full of lovely details. Therese always wears a colourful woollen hat, but after Waterloo she swaps it for a black one, her childish days now over and not because of her sexual awakening but because she is now part of the treachery and villainy of the adult world. When Harge comes home to find Carol shoeless in the presence of Therese, those shoes tell him everything.

carol film

Cinematographer Edward Lachman, who created the amazing tonalities of Far from Heaven, here goes for a grainier, more realistic look, though Carol often stands out from the crowd. As does Cate Blanchett. She oozes sexual confidence when she meets Therese, is a wonderful noir heroine when she threatens the detective with a gun, and compelling when choosing to lose her child rather than live a lie. A host of gongs awaits her. Mara is also outstanding as we watch her character mature.

This is not a lesbian love story; it’s just a love story and a very intelligent and sophisticated one at that, reminiscent of The End of the Affair or Brief Encounter. Of course when Carol writes to Therese of the huge struggles ahead we are reminded of how much the Carols of the world have achieved and the film is an important addition to a genre you could count on the fingers of one hand. For that we thank Haynes and the very talented Ms Blanchett.