Carol is exquisite. The 50s costumes are exquisite. The sets and furniture, the sense of time and place, are all exquisite. And so too is the acting.
Everything about this film is careful, measured, slow. The way Haynes' camera lingers over the two central actresses. The way a cigarette is placed between the lips, its smoke curling through long exhalation. The way a hairbrush separates each strand of hair. The way a gloved hand caresses the steering wheel of a car. Every action, no matter how small, is precisely carried out and charged with eroticism, lending the film an unparalleled sense of longing.
It sounds cliché - the eyes of two people meeting across a shop floor and the affair that ensues - but here it's beautifully portrayed. Carol is a long and slow film, the story of the titular wife and mother and her affair with a younger woman unfolding at a gradual and carefully planned pace. Nothing is forced, instead their attraction and romance plays out organically. When they do finally make love, it feels like a deserved climax (no pun intended), tender and loving, like two souls combining as one.
At its core are two subtle and nuanced performances, both worthy of Oscar recognition. Cate Blanchett's Carol shows great strength of character, balancing the dual role of caring mother and sexual lover. An enticing on-screen presence, she is glamorously depicted and her charm is inescapable, yet she is equally troubled - not by her own sexuality, but by the perception of her from patriarchal society. Then there's Rooney Mara's Therese, the naive ingenue who falls helplessly for Carol and is swept into her life - it's a sensitively played yet no less intriguing performance that's a world away from her role in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and already won her a Best Actress award at Cannes.
It's all underpinned by noirish intrigue - in its bristling orchestral score, in its abstract angles and use of light, in its mystery and eroticism. Carol herself is something of a femme fatale, a sexualised and enchanting woman who seems to inadvertently entice every man and woman she meets. Yet here, any sense of danger is implied in the background. This is no cautionary tale but a quietly confident film that focuses on the magnetic pull of attraction - it is an overpowering force that cannot be controlled.
Crucially, the 'l' word is never used. This is a study of love, not sexuality - its intoxicating allure and its devastating power.
Watch: Carol is out now.