Carol is a highly acclaimed film from last year based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith. The storyline has some elements familiar to Highsmith fans, but it's not a crime story, even though a gun makes an appearance during one tense scene. The book was originally titled The Price of Salt, and Highsmith published it under a pen-name (Claire Morgan) in 1953 after her existing publisher rejected it.
At Christmas time, an aspiring photographer called Therese is working in a department store when she has a brief encounter with an older woman, an elegant customer who is looking for a present for her young daughter. Therese has a boyfriend who wants to marry her, while the customer Carol, is married to a wealthy man who is prepared to use their daughter as a pawn in an increasingly acrimonious custody battle if Carol persists in her determination to end the marriage. The lead roles are taken by Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchettl and they are both superb.
Therese and Carol are drawn to each other, but as their relationship blossoms it becomes increasingly evident that the course of true love is unlikely to run smooth - even when the couple throw caution to the winds and go off together to such not-exactly-exotic locations as Waterloo, Idaho. There are some parallels between this relationship and those between the male protagonists of so many other Highsmith novels, including Strangers on a Train and The Two Faces of January; but there are also important differences.
This very well-made film cast fascinating, if depressing, light on the moral climate of the time. Highsmith wove autobiographical elements into her story, well documented in Andrew Wilson's excellent biography of her, Beautiful Shadow, while anyone intrigued by the account of lesbian life in Fifties America may also like to take a look at Marijane Meaker's Highsmith: A Romance of the Fifties (2003), a memoir about her doomed affair with Highsmith. Meaker's book I found fascinating, although regrettably less than kind abotu her former partner. Highsmith was a troubled woman, clearly very difficult to live with, but truly gifted. Carol is an excellent adaptation of a very good love story - and if you want to know whether it has a happy ending, you'll have to watch it to find out!.