From Page to Screen: Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Carol BloomsburyFrom Page to ScreenCarol Film Poster

About the Book: Carol (The Price of  Salt)  by Patricia Highsmith

Therese is just an ordinary sales assistant working in a New York department store when a beautiful, alluring woman in her thirties walks up to her counter.  Standing there, Therese is wholly unprepared for the first shock of love.  Therese is an awkward nineteen-year-old with a job she hates and a boyfriend she doesn’t love; Carol is a sophisticated, bored suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce and a custody battle for her only daughter.  As Therese becomes irresistibly drawn into Carol’s world, she soon realises how much they both stand to lose…

Read my review of the book here.

About the Film: Carol (2015)

Carol is directed by Todd Haynes from a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel.  It stars Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird and Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet.

More information about the film can be found here.

Book v Film (Spoiler free)

In the book, the reader sees everything through the eyes of Therese so, as I remarked in my review, Carol remains ‘something of an enigma, slightly distant and often unreadable’.  At times, Therese is unsure exactly what Carol’s feelings for her are.  The film gives us much more insight into Carol’s character and her domestic situation.  For instance, there are scenes between Carol and her daughter, Rindy, that demonstrate the strength of Carol’s love for her daughter.  We also get to understand more about the strains in the relationship between Carol and her husband, Harge.   I’d have to say that possibly the film gives a more rounded picture of Harge or at least we start to understand a little why he feels as he does.

Conversely, the film gives us less of Therese’s back-story and her struggles to make her way in her chosen career (which for some reason has been changed from stage design to photography). It struck me watching the film that both Therese’s boyfriend, Richard, and Carol’s husband, Harge, want to control them, make them part of their own respective families,  make them conform to some conventional picture of womanhood/motherhood.

From a structural point of view, I liked the way the film opens with a scene near the end of the book and then proceeds in flashback until it returns us to that same scene at the end of the film.    The story line follows the book pretty closely although Highsmith, as you might expect, inserts a more suspenseful element into some scenes.  The film includes additional scenes that show just what Carol is expected to go through to win access to her daughter in the custody battle with Harge.  Similarly, the viewer witnesses the decision she finally makes about how she intends to live her life and whether Therese will have a place in it.

As you might expect from an experienced director like Todd Haynes, the film is beautifully shot with a wonderful period atmosphere, whether that‘s the crowded streets of New York or the slightly rundown look of Therese’s apartment.  The costumes are simply gorgeous.   When it comes to the leads, Cate Blanchett is Carol for me and Rooney Mara, with her gamine look reminiscent of a young Audrey Hepburn, is perfect as Therese.   They are really mesmerising in those key scenes where Carol and Therese lock eyes with each other across a room.

The Verdict

The film respects the main story line of the novel and is a beautifully crafted piece of work with superb acting. It is also great to see a film that provides not one but two strong lead roles for female actors.  I really loved it.  The film does however shift the emphasis from Therese to Carol, making Carol a less enigmatic character than in the book.  I think the book gives a more complex picture of the relationship between the two women.  The film is wonderful entertainment but I think the book wins out for its more nuanced examination of the relationship between two people at a time when such a relationship was considered immoral by many.

What do you think?  Have you read the book or seen the film?

12 thoughts on “From Page to Screen: Carol by Patricia Highsmith

  1. I have the book on my TBR and recently got the film so I’m even more keen to get to them now I’ve read your post. It sounds like the book just edges the film but I like the idea that the film perhaps adds another perspective to think about. I shall bump the book up my TBR and read it soon. Fab post! 🙂

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    1. Hope you enjoy them both. Although I saw the film it had been a while and I wanted to refresh my memory once I finished the book. Luckily I was able to borrow the DVD from my local library for only a small fee and watched it again last week. It was as good as I remembered.

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    1. Yes, I meant to do it that way round but had seen the film soon after it came out. It meant when I read the book I was picturing Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara – no bad thing as I thought they were excellent casting. I watched the film again last week and enjoyed it just as much but also was more aware of the differences from the book.

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