A love that dare not speak its name

On a quiet evening recently I watched the 2015 film “Carol” which is set in the 1950s and based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith.

The “Carol” of the title is a wealthy middle aged woman in a marriage that is breaking up, who has a four year-old daughter she adores. On a pre-Christmas shopping trip she meets a young shop assistant, Therese, and they have a connection. Carol’s husband, who she is divorcing, knows that she has had same sex relationships in the past and uses this as part of a custody battle – citing her ‘immoral behaviour’ to secure sole custody of their daughter.

Carol and Therese go on a road trip where they fall in love, not realising that a private detective has been hired to spy on them. Desperate to see her daughter, Carol returns to her husband and agrees to undergo therapy. Ultimately, though, she cannot live a lie and at a meeting with lawyers she concedes custody, at the same time refusing to denounce her relationship with Therese. She does, however, get visitation rights. Carol and Therese are reconciled and can be a couple, most likely a secret one. This is 1950s America.

The world I grew up in was 1970s Britain wasn’t much better. It was a time when gay men were called “Nancy Boys” and laughed about – or worse. Lesbians were talked about in hushed tones and rigid conformity was pretty much expected. It took a long time for things to change, at work I found homophobia was rife. By then in a relationship with an older woman that we both chose to keep secret to avoid ridicule, I later found out from colleagues in my union that they had speculated behind my back that I was a closeted gay man. It wasn’t until the 1990s that I noticed a change. This was, of course, many years after the then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins legislated to remove the threat of prison from men who participated in consensual sex. It did not bring full equality but it was progress. That came many years later as, in her time as a Home Office Minister, Lynne Featherstone oversaw the introduction of same-sex marriage.

So where are we now? Well things have improved greatly but there is still more to be done. We certainly haven’t completely eliminated homophobia from our society and around the world there are still many regimes that discriminate against gay people, some brutally.

Watching the film “Carol” which is, of course, about fictional characters, I was reminded of the terrible persecution that LGBT people suffered in the past and why I am proud to be part of our party. – A party that has, along with its predecessor the Liberal Party, long stood for rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and TV and film.


  • A very good, very stylish, film. Tod Haynes also directed Far From Heaven, which is another very good film with some thematic links to Carol.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Jul '20 - 12:25pm

    A fine critique of the terrible approach of the old attitudes.I , just a few years younger, became in my mid teens, aware of a “deadly new virus!” in the words of John Hurt in govt saturation coverage of Aids. That saw a cultural joy, the original production in the West End, of La Cage Aux Folles, which I saw as a student three or four times, shut.

    Culture reveals a lot, and the part this party has and does play in the political culture does count.

  • David Warren 7th Jul '20 - 1:35pm

    I watched Far From Heaven with Daphne before she died. I didn’t realise it was directed by the same person.

    It is a good film and I have it on DVD. Must watch it again sometime.

  • Carol was a fictional story. Milk (based on the real-life story of Harvey Milk) received 8 Oscar nominations in 2008 including Best Picture and went on to win two: Best Actor for Sean Penn, his second Oscar, and Best Original Screenplay for Dustin Black.

  • @Frank Little – Joe Bourke’s observation, just confirms to me, how strong/influential the (male) gay lobby is, or how people want to be seen to support (male) gay issues.

    We are seeing similar with the current media fuss over JK Rowlings comments, with the (male-to-female) trans lobby putting its agenda ahead of womens issues.

  • The Oscars tend to favour big splashy issue movies and has done for decades. That’s why films like Crash or Spotlight tend to win. Carol is love story. The issues are there but the point is the romance. A lot of very good films miss out on Academy Awards nominations . If they’re released at the wrong time of year they can be forgotten about by the time the Oscar starts or don’t qualify for that years statue hand outs.

  • David Warren 8th Jul '20 - 8:36am

    I haven’t paid attention to the Oscars for quite a few years. The last time I was in the late 1990s when Donnie Brasco was released. I am a big Al Pacino fan and I thought his portrayal of low level mobster Left Ruggiero was amongst his best. In the end the only award it got was for best screenplay.

    I suppose we should at least be happy that Hollywood is making films that are not what I would call ‘safe’ and tackle controversial subjects. Maybe in time they will start getting the recognition they deserve.

  • clive english 9th Jul '20 - 11:53am

    Roland’s remark about Lobbies and the supposed clash of Woman’s Rights and Trans issues amply shows prejudice is not dead. Instead of attacking Gay Rights directly people like Roland try and use Trans issues and the supposed “Agenda” of “trans people endangering women;s rights ” as a wedge issue to roll back social progress.
    It is no accident that the prominent advocates of this so called Feminism are beloved of the American Right who would normally never be seen dead in the company of a feminist of any kind.

  • @clive english – I wasn’t knowingly “attacking gay rights”, or attempting to “roll back social progress”, or advocating a “so called Feminism”, just a casual observation of how things seem.

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