The Weinstein Company        118 minutes               R

Cate Blanchette has done it again. When she’s on the screen, it’s hard to look anywhere else.

As Carol, she is stunning with chiseled features and a sophisticated demeanor that may remind you of Katherine Hepburn, but with a soothing voice. And Rooney Mara becomes more and more curious and captivated by Carol in this period drama dealing with passion between two very different women in the 1950’s.

This film is based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Price of Salt. Blanchett says she already knew of the author and when she read this book, she was “struck by the power, the emotional power of the novel, and how BOLD it was,” especially when it was written.

Mara plays a younger, impressionable store clerk, Therese, who falls hard for this commanding older woman. Mara’s innocence in the role, (and even her look), reminded us of Audrey Hepburn. Mara says she was in awe when she saw Blanchette in the first camera test with full hair and makeup. “Who wouldn’t be just blown away by her. She is a goddess. A magnificent creature.”

Mara says knowing she’d be working with the actress who she’s idolized since she was a young girl was a little daunting at first. But Blanchette expressed being impressed with Mara’s talent. Both had worked with David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh but not with each other. Still, she says Mara was so open and free and nothing phased her and she could go to any emotion. Both run the gamut in the film under the direction of Todd Haynes.

Haynes says this film was 11 years in the making. It’s about the growing love relationship between two women during a time when lesbian love was not accepted. We slowly get to know that the older woman is in process of getting a divorce and has a child. The young store clerk sees Carol as the embodiment of sophistication, smarts and beauty. She’s a woman she’d like to not only know, but be.

The film slowly examines the growth of their relationships. Very slowly.  But the way the wardrobe, hair and detail of the period are shot on film is worth seeing. The detail of the period wardrobe is amazing, especially the tailored outfits worn by Blanchett. It’s also interesting to see how Mara’s costuming changes as she becomes part of Carol’s world and is encouraged to follow her own dream to be a photographer.

Cinematographer Ed Lachman says that the palette is very important to him and it shows in the color and contrast. Shot on Super 16 mm film, not digital, it is very rich. The red lipstick against pale skin and detail in fabrics used by Wardrobe Designer Sandy Powell, Lachman says, augmented or played against the set beautifully. There are soft images reflecting through foggy windows plus unusual angles showing Carol and Therese’s profiles from the back seat of a car. The detail is amazing down to packing artifacts and clothing from that era in a suitcase for their road trip.

Kyle Chandler plays Carol’s soon to be ex-husband, Harge, and at first you don’t know whether he’s a good or bad guy. Chandler plays an investment banker who loves his wife and doesn’t want the stigma of divorce to cause him to lose face at work or his family. Director Haynes describes Chandler as a powerhouse of an actor portraying Harge as “Vulnerable and angry and confused” all at the same time. So is Carol. Chandler does an amazing job with a role that could make you hate him, but we ended up feeling for him and the love he has for his wife and daughter.

Sarah Paulson is Abby, Carol’s close friend, former business partner and lover.  She helps  explain who and why Carol is the way she is. She fills in the blanks and is someone who  understands what her friend is going through.

The dramatic musical score enhances the women’s relationship as their love roller coasters. Carol has an air of knowing what to do when, which attracts Therese even more. Both women explore each other mentally and eventually physically. Haynes shoots the love scene when their emotions finally take over so that it flows. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s tender but highly emotional and more sensual than sexual.

Is this worth your bucks? This film is worth seeing for the strong performances showing the awkward relationship between Carol and Therese at a time when lesbian love was not accepted and even illegal. Both actresses appreciate that this story is more uplifting than you’d expect. A happy ending on a melodrama? The surprises are moving. But see it for yourself. With her striking beauty, sophisticated demeanor, Blanchett’s amazing characterization lights up the screen.