Chris Hormann’s review published on Letterboxd:
So here's the thing, you wonder whether anticipating a film for so long, when you eventually watch it, that your view on it is skewed, just to live up to what you thought it would be. It did worry me a little as ever since Carol was announced, I couldn't wait to see it. Todd Haynes had shown himself to be a master of mood with Far From Heaven and also in evoking a 50's setting. Cate Blanchett is the best actress today working in the English language. And Patricia Highsmith is a favourite writer and her work has already adapted extremely well for the screen.
So I'll come out and say it right now, Carol is my favourite film of 2015 - yes the reasons I've just outlined are part of why I love it so much but there is so much more. Haynes has evoked the 50's but in quite a different way and certainly with a less stark colour palette than the Sirkian tribute, Far From Heaven. This is a much more grounded setting so while Carol's mansion smells of money, Therese has a much more modest apartment which feels very lived-in. The relationships outside of the central one also feel real, even as they're failing for both women while Carol's friendship with Sarah Paulson's 'Aunt' Abby is the strongest and most constant.
Casting is key in this film and every role seems to have been perfectly cast - both Kyle Chandler and Jake Lacy imbue their smaller roles as spurned husband and boyfriend respectively, with pain and self-righteous anger. The aforementioned Paulson is a mixture of warmth and steel, knowing exactly what Carol is experiencing and hiding her own pain behind a confident veneer.
Then of course we have the two leads and this is where the film soars even higher. Blanchett is capable of showing so much with a look and with her eyes, whether in full seductive mode or in the crushing realisation of living a lie to save her relationship with her daughter. However she is edged out in this film by Rooney Mara's revelatory Therese, her eyes opening to finding love where she dare not. Even as we meet her, there's sadness in her unfulfilled relationship with Lacy's Richard so when her eyes drift across the department store and suddenly catch Carol's, they light up for the first time and her path is set.
The believability of Carol and Therese's love is key to this film and enormous tension is wrought from the slow burn of their passion, from a look to a touch, and with words that are pregnant with double-meaning. Anyone expecting a salacious sapphic tryst will be disappointed but that would be entirely out of keeping with the mood of the film.
Mood is also set by Carter Burwell's great score with a key piece of music from Billie Holliday acting as a chorus through the film. As with anything in this film, it has beauty, delicacy and is aching with emotion.
Todd Haynes has cemented his place as one of cinema's great auteurs with this film and in Blanchett and Mara, we have two magnificent performances, the latter of which will surely break your heart. I know it did mine.