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Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in Todd Haynes' 'Carol.' (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

“Gay or straight, you can relate to this movie because it is just a love story,” says Rooney Mara, who stars opposite Cate Blanchett in Carol, a 1950s lesbian romance which opens today (Friday).

It’s really a story of love at first sight between the socialite Carol, portrayed by Blanchett, and a younger Manhattan department store salesgirl, Therese, played by Mara.

Cate Blanchett sees the film portraying two women who can’t quite understand their attraction: “I mean you look at it, two women, very vastly different ages, vastly different places in their life, different socio-economic backgrounds, you think, ‘What could there be there?’ That’s what is so confusing and bewildering and exciting and enticing to both of them, is they just don’t know why.”

Age disparity between characters appears to be a trend in lesbian themed romances this year – both Grandma, starring Lily Tomlin, and Freeheld, with Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, have women of different ages romantically involved.

Carol, directed by Todd Haynes, who’s captured 1950s America before in his 2002 picture Far from Heaven, shows gay people conducting their lives with some measure of self-respect in a era where homophobia was extreme. But it would be wrong to suggest that Carol is an activist film.

“It really is not a political movie,” says Mara. “It’s not a movie with an agenda, it really is just a love story.”

It’s also a fine looking picture with strong production design which very effectively brings to the screen pre-Eisenhower 1950s America.

The actresses sport the fashions of the time but it’s not the clothes from that era that Rooney Mara would like to have with her today. It’s the more measured pace of conducting life including the slow language lovers adopt when they first meet.

Rooney Mara says: “There’s so much subtlety and nuance in this film between the two characters where they’re hanging on every word the other person says, as you do when you’re falling in love with someone. Now we do that but it’s over text, where we’re scrutinizing what a dot-dot-dot means, or what the person meant in their email, and I just miss the way we communicated back then.”

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By Tom Brook