One of the most hotly anticipated films of the festival, Todd Haynes’ Carol will premiere in Cannes this week starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The Guardian‘s Hannah Ellis-Petersen today profiles Carol’s producer, Elizabeth Karlsen:
It’s taken more than 50 years to get Highsmith’s seminal – and once shocking – lesbian novel to cinemas. Yet the tale of the older, married Carol (Blanchett) and shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara), as they fall in love and set off across the US on a road trip pursued by a private detective, has become one of the most anticipated competition debuts at Cannes.
“I always knew Carol would be a really important film,” says Karlsen. “It was so scandalous at the time because it has a happy ending. Even today you can count on one hand the number of gay stories with a happy ending. But it is also just a wonderful love story, with two very powerful women at its heart. And that, sadly, is still very hard to find, even in 2015.”
…While Highsmith is best known for her psychological thrillers (most notably The Talented Mr Ripley), Karlsen saw another, more intriguing, side of the author reflected in the pages of The Price of Salt. As Highsmith herself noted just prior to her death in 1995: “I never wrote another book like this.”
While Karlsen came across the script for Carol in 2004, she wouldn’t get the rights to make the film for another eight years. “I’ve always loved Patricia Highsmith’s writing, but to me what is so fascinating about [this story] is that it is semi-autobiographical, based on this striking woman in fur she had seen when she was working in a department store,” she says. “When I decided to take on the project, I started reading Highsmith’s diaries and letters, which are held in a library in Zurich. What was really interesting was that she wrote in one of her diary entries about her longing to have children and to have a proper relationship. Patricia Highsmith was also gay, and this felt, to me, like she was writing a life she thought might be possible – that [The Price of Salt] was the novel of what might have been.”
…Championing Carol, Karlsen was struck by the prospect of bringing a defiantly female-driven story to a wider audience. “As you get older, you become far more attuned to just how much gender inequality is around. The longer I live, the more depressed I am that so many things haven’t changed for women – and so many things have gone backwards.”
…Karlsen, who is the chair of Women in Film and Television, doesn’t mince words about how the film industry has failed to adequately represent women. “Women make up 50% of the world’s population, and yet they are an underused workforce and are underused creative and intellectual powerhouses. And they are an audience who are still not being served.”
Agreeing with recent remarks made by Carey Mulligan that sexism remains rife within the industry, she adds: “Certainly there aren’t nearly enough female film directors, there aren’t enough women screenwriters and producers. The figures were worse this year than last, the number of women actually went down. And that is unacceptable.”
Karlsen sighs. “There is this circle of men hiring men and telling men’s stories, and not having a clue that it is not always very interesting. That’s why Stephen and I are so keen to tell female-driven stories. It’s a silent history that is slowly, slowly being unearthed.”
From the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and acclaimed director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I’m Not There, Mildred Pierce) comes a powerful drama about a married woman who risks everything when she embarks on a romance with a younger department store worker.
Starring Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett and Academy Award-nominee Rooney Mara & set against the glamourous backdrop of 1950s New York, Carol is an achingly beautiful depiction of love against the odds.