If some of this year's awards-season fare was guilty of being overwrought - particularly "The Danish Girl" and this week's other major release, "The Revenant" - Todd Haynes' "Carol" is often strikingly reserved, much like the forbidden love story it tells.

If some of this year's awards-season fare was guilty of being overwrought - particularly "The Danish Girl" and this week's other major release, "The Revenant" - Todd Haynes' "Carol" is often strikingly reserved, much like the forbidden love story it tells.

Thanks to Haynes' thoughtful direction and two great performances, it's also one that was worth the wait.

Therese (Rooney Mara) is a department store clerk in 1950s New York. One evening before Christmas, she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett), an older married woman to whom she is quickly drawn. As Therese and Carol grow closer, their feelings are soon undeniable, even in the face of consequence.

Adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel "The Price of Salt," "Carol" is story of a love that wasn't accepted in the society it occurred in - America, not actually that long ago. But while it takes on a certain melancholy, it's never heavy-handed.

That's because the focus is on the characters, and the portrayal of those characters is what makes "Carol" special.

Blanchett may well be on her way to a third Oscar, and it would not be undeserved. Her Carol is assured, but her consequences are greater, as is the range of emotion Blanchett displays.

But Mara's performance may be even better - and she's every bit a co-star and shouldn't get shuffled off to the supporting actress category. She tells Therese's story in a shy smile, and what's going on beneath the surface is both obvious and subtle.

"Carol"

Opens Friday

3 1/2 stars out of 4