Rich housewife Carol falls in love with young photographer Therese - but what happens when Carol's husband threatens to take their daughter away?
So, Carol is an American novel splayed out beautifully on screen. It's 1951 and gorgeous, sophisticated Carol (Cate) meets shy, awkward Therese (Rooney). The two women are drawn to each other but Carol's husband Harge (Kyle) threatens to end Carol's access to their daughter.
Can unconventional love survive the conventions of its times?
Based on Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt, Oscar-nominated Carol is a triumph of its lead actors. Cate Blanchett sweeps through the film in a flurry of lipstick and furs. Stylised to her finger-tips, Blanchett makes everything Carol does, down to eating the olive from a Martini, an act of sensual fashion.
But as older, richer Carol, Blanchett also adds a Lolita-like unease, swaying between being demanding and dependent, leading Therese towards unknown dangers. Blanchett's done deeper shades of grey before - remember 2006's explosive Notes On A Scandal - but she imbues Carol with powerful, pouty style.
However, it is Rooney Mara who walks away with Carol. Her Therese is remarkable for youthful, vulnerable intensity, eyes that shine and weep over love and grief, her cheap woollen cap before Carol's sleek platinum bob, shoulders that tighten tensely when touched, lips that quiver for a kiss. Wide-eyed Therese, enchanted, gutted, reincarnated - the only woman in an NYT newsroom full of men - is a knock-out.
As are the film's photography - and philosophy. As Carol and Therese take a road trip, they travel America's harshly cold beauty, pieces of smoke nailed into the freezing sky, rain that falls like jazz notes on car windows, grim motels and grand hotels where post-war America is kicking off its shoes.
But this is still a society of barriers where husbands (a less blustery Kyle would've helped) control money and marriage means the suburban dullness of 'more mashed potatoes'. Yet, with women starting to work, this is also a society with liberties in the air.
This is a society you will recognise - for Carol goes well beyond Carol.