New York department store clerk and aspiring photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) is willingly seduced by Cate Blanchett's unhappily married older woman Carol. It's a dangerous, all-consuming relationship with the potential to destroy, particularly in the morally righteous climate of 1950s America. Powered by two superlative central performances, this highly-charged romance from director Todd Haynes, adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith, is a thrillingly emotional triumph.
Cory Michael Smith
Rarely has the romance genre cliché 'their eyes met across a crowded room' felt so vividly realised as in Todd Haynes' superb adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel The Price of Salt.
This is a film about contrasting lives, about control, about hiding one's true self. It's a film of precise design, delicate musical cues and studied performances, led by two immensely talented actresses who should both receive Oscar nominations.
It's elegant, poignant and profound. It's a marvellous film you mustn't miss.
Highsmith's work has transferred well to the screen before, with Strangers On A Train, The Talented Mr Ripley and Two Faces Of January fizzing with intrigue and glamour.
Yet The Price Of Salt is an atypical Highsmith work, published under a pseudonym due to its then-groundbreaking portrayal of same-sex love and alienation. It's also perfect for a filmmaker of Haynes' sensibilities, the 54-year-old having explored identity and sexuality to riveting effect throughout his career, especially in the Oscar-nominated Far From Heaven.
In narrative terms, Carol is straightforward. A chance encounter in early 50s New York between Carol, an older, unhappily married woman (Blanchett), and Therese, a shopgirl with artistic dreams (Mara), soon sparks a faltering relationship.
Can their contemporaneously transgressive love overcome fear, suspicion, societal constraints and wounded former partners?
Though its plot may be simple, Carol lingers long in the memory, thanks to a cast and crew at the very top of their games. Mara shared the Best Actress prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and nominations should be expected across the board for this beautifully realised film.
Carter Burwell's score soothes and soars, Sandy Powell's costume design is magnificent and Edward Lachmann's cinematography is as sensual as it is grand.
But as the screen throbs with nerves, apprehension, and arousal, it's clear that the highest praise ought to go to the film's cast and the director who has coaxed brilliance from them.
Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson are suitably sad and wise as, respectively, Carol's cuckolded husband and her former flame/best friend, while Jake Lacy is all aw-shucks 50s bonhomie as Therese's bemused boyfriend.
Our leads are, however, on another level entirely. With two Academy Awards under her belt, Blanchett's talents are no secret and she's fascinating as an alluring, quite grand wife and mother unable to resist her connection with a beautiful younger soul.
As Therese, an earnest, hopeful creature 'flung out of space', as Carol puts it, Mara is a revelation, brimming with dreams and nerves and possibility.
Just like a footballer might garner praise for 'doing the simple things well', Carol is marvellously effective with the slightest movement; a hand resting a second longer on a shoulder, a look captured in a windscreen reflection, a character saying the words "that's that" and shattering the audience's hearts.
Funny, sexy, sumptuous and tender, Carol takes a humane look at the risks and rewards of love.
It is devastating, superbly played and deftly made. It is wonderful.