Cate Blanchett has never given a bad performance, at least not one I have seen. When I saw she was in a new film, and that it was set in the same year as I was born, 1952, I was excited to see it. Not only that, it was an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel, and she wrote ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’.
I didn’t get to the cinema to see it on the big screen, so I was lucky to catch it last week, on a TV film channel.
The story revolves around an older, somewhat predatory lesbian, Carol Aird, and her attraction to a young woman she happens to meet when buying some toys in a department store. That younger woman is Therese Belevet, played by Rooney Mara. Carol (Blanchett) is soon arranging to see Therese again, after the shop girl kindly returns the gloves she left behind. (Perhaps deliberately?)
Carol is rich and bored, in the middle of a contentious divorce and potential custody battle for her young daughter. Therese is unhappy at the department store, and dreams of a career as a photographer. She has a boyfriend who is very keen on her, but she doesn’t feel the same way, and cannot commit to anything serious with him. She feels an inexplicable attraction to the attractive older Carol, and accepts her invitation to spend some time at her country house.
When Carol suggests that she join her on a road trip, Therese finds that she cannot say no. Despite upsetting her boyfriend, and having to leave her job, she drives off into the wintry landscape with Carol, their destination unknown. Eventually, their mutual attraction boils over into sex and love, with Carol’s husband trying to find her location, and threatening to gain sole custody of their daughter because of her overt lesbian lifestyle.
I had read mixed reviews of this film previously. It was nominated for countless awards, yet won very few. I thought that when I got around to watching it, I would understand why. But I didn’t.
I found the film completely convincing. It is not only set in the early 1950s, it sometimes feels as if it was made at that time too. It is stylish, authentic, and beautifully photographed. Scenes are shot through the rain-soaked glass of car windows, and in steamed up diners, where people sit alone at tables like something from an Edward Hopper painting. There is also deliberate use of out of focus photography, which suits the mood well. I was constantly reminded of the best work from the director Douglas Sirk, with that hint of melodrama that never gets out of control. The only scene involving lesbian sex is tastefully done, not at all explicit, and actually very tender. It is a story about two people hopelessly in love, and they just happen to both be women.
The rest of the cast turn in solid performances, but it is always Rooney and Blanchett who you will be watching. As Carol, Cate Blanchett is pitch-perfect; poised and deliberate, knowing what she wants, and determined to get it, at any cost. The sometimes confused, but equally determined younger woman Therese is handled well by Rooney Mara, and contemporary attitudes to lesbian love are not overplayed.
I think those critics were wrong. I really liked it.
Here’s a trailer.