Fascinating love life of Carol author Patricia Highsmith explored in new documentary

Loving Highsmith provides an intimate look at the highly-esteemed author’s complex relationships with women.

Portrait of author Patricia Highsmith.
Image: Twitter: @merceperez_

In a new documentary from director Eva Vitija, the private life and public career of lesbian author Patricia Highsmith are spotlighted on the big screen. The film entitled Loving Highsmith is based on the highly-esteemed novelist’s previously unpublished diaries, and features interviews with friends, family, and surviving ex-girlfriends.

Born in Texas in 1921, Highsmith spent much of her adult life in Europe, eventually deciding to settle down in Switzerland where she died in 1995. She rose to fame in the 1950s after publishing Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr Ripley, and became a notorious figure in the lesbian literary scene thanks to her book The Price of Salt – originally published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan in 1952, and then republished as Carol by Patricia Highsmith in 1990. The novel was the basis for the award-winning film of the same name, released in 2015 starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Although she boasts a fascinating professional life, it is the nature of her romantic affairs that holds centre stage in the new documentary. Despite being a somewhat divisive figure within queer literature, criticised for some of her problematic views, Vitija confirms that she did have a “wildly romantic and poetic side”. Through navigating her journals, the director was able to discover “A Patricia Highsmith completely different from the one” she was reading about in biographies or newspaper articles.

One interviewee in the film explains, “All the girls were fascinated because she was Patricia Highsmith. Pat made the most of it. That’s for sure.” Another commented that she was “Easy to love, let’s put it that way”.

Loving Highsmith received its world premiere in Switzerland at the 2022 Solothurn Film Festival, and has since travelled to various cinemas around the globe. It debuted in Ireland earlier this summer at the Irish Film Institute (IFI) as part of its ‘Patricia Highsmith on Screen at the IFI’ programme. Vitija was even on hand to participate in a post-screening Q&A session.

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