You thought I’d forgotten? It took a while to read the book and to view it a couple of times. As the Oscars have just happened and it’s doing the rounds in 35mm at the moment in Britain’s cinemas, I thought I would post my long-planned article.
BEWARE OF PLOT SPOILERS
This other Cate is also important to me. I was intrigued to read in Empire that Rooney Mara saw Elizabeth in 1998 and wanted to be an actress because of Cate Blanchett. I even think the article said that Rooney fell in love – perhaps not romantically but in one of those fascinating other ways. Elizabeth was a hugely important film to me and remains my favourite of all time. It began career related aspirations for me too, though it wasn’t the first time I’d seen Cate Blanchett – that was earlier that year in Oscar and Lucinda.
Carol was keenly anticipated, but not the film nor book I hoped for. I saw the film on its opening night – but was one of 3 people! Elsewhere, it sold out. So I went looking for the experience I expected for the first time – a packed room, the buzz that Star Wars was about to enjoy. Carol was arthouse Star Wars – its trailer started months before the release date; she was on backs of buses and on covers of even the most blockbuster of film magazines.
I saw Carol again in a provincial indepedent during the day, which was far better attended. I discovered that much of the audience had been before – the usher had seen it almost every day, and Cate was special for her too.
Carol is very cinematic, and also that quite wordless sort of film that critics enjoy but that I rarely do. It changes much from the novel but both oscillate in their quality. The moments when Carol and Therese meet and become lovers are brilliantly written, and I was excited on the last page as I realised that Patricia Highsmith could end her story quite differently from the film – would she? But there seemed much bagginess in both media: asides that didn’t really go anywhere, and once again, too much exaggerated drama for the film adaptations. In the book, Carol doesn’t shoot at the detective, there’s no row in the solicitor’s office (though I loved her speech about not being ugly people), no irritant minor characters pushing in on Carol and Therese’s drinks.
Abby is underdeveloped in the film so her role when Carol leaves Therese is too much. Therese is often annoyingly weak and Carol is not nice to her. And the age gap is larger in life – instead of a decade, it’s 25 years.
One should want the couple to work – despite the men in their lives, the social and age difference, and the lesbian taboo of the 1950s – but I often wanted better for Therese and both women often gnarked me. I was fixated by Therese’s fringe and Alice band – odd ways of trying to make her look longer and not yet arrived – but I kept thinking, if you were trying to pull Cate Blanchett, wouldn’t you doff the schoolgirl look?
I wanted Carol to be one of those powerful, memorable films. It took up much of my time, seeing it thrice and reading the screenplay as well as the novel, but it wasn’t the story I hoped for. It seemed to set up the far too common lesbian story formula: at least one of you has a nice man who you’re not quite married to him who’s not quite right, but then you meet this wonderful woman… This is a bit more complicated with a child custody case and a best friend/former lover, but perhaps its classic status comes from being one of the earliest love between women stories rather than the best. And in the film, I didn’t believe that there was love, hence I struggled to rally for the leads and was busy getting needled by dreadful bit parts which detracted and made me squirm.