Film distributors send out all kinds of promotional material to push the big titles. For Carol, a box of beautifully produced postcard sets arrived at FACT, flagging up the aesthetic of the film; mysterious, suggestive, things seen through windows and from the corner of the eye, definitely shades of an Edward Hopper painting and not a Norman Rockwell.
When Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, from which the film is adapted, was originally published in 1952, sexuality between women was hardly mentioned and only ever as something pathological. It was her second novel and despite her first being the huge hit Strangers on a Train, her original publisher refused it. She used a nom de plume to avoid being identified as a “notorious lesbian writer” and it crept out to hardly any notice, unlike Strangers, which Alfred Hitchcock , had adapted almost immediately for the big screen.
In her Afterword to the 1990 British edition (titled Carol) she comments wryly that it wasn’t until the paperback came out in 1953 and it was inexpensive enough to reach a mass market, that she suddenly started to receive letters from women desperate to tell someone of their experiences and how important the book was to them. Even a decade later, The Children’s Hour would portray even the suggestion of a lesbian relationship as scandalous and irreparably damaging for the women involved, so at that time, a novel that spoke frankly about the love between women as something wonderful was to be cherished.
Todd Haynes is adept at capturing the dilemmas of women under pressure. Carol is in the tradition of his other works especially Far From Heaven and his TV remake of Mildred Pierce, where women face almost unbearable shifts in their lives – Mildred’s husband walking out in the deepest days of The Depression leaving her to fend for their children alone, and Cathy in Far From Heaven realising her husband is gay and their life has been a sham. He is fascinated by their unexpected resilience.
Highsmith is known as a writer of the macabre and the queen of the memorable twist, and Carol has a cool elegance and a knowing askance view that Haynes is the ideal director to reveal. But it is a love story and he manages to bring out the universality of love – all lovers are somehow separate, existing only for each other, so that these lesbian lovers are the same, just with the added jeopardy of a society that refuses to understand or accept them.
We’ve come a long way from the first furtive publication of The Price of Salt to a time when Carol can be released in screens across the country as one of the expected “big hitters” of the year, with a star cast and a famous director who would no more think of hiding his sexuality as painting himself purple. It’s so pleasing to see this subtle, important novel adapted with such style and care, perfect for these long winter evenings when good stories are most needed.
Book your tickets now for Carol