On Friday, one of the most beautiful films of the year opens in the UK. Carol tells the story of the romance between Therese (Rooney Mara), a young department store shopgirl, and Carol (Cate Blanchett), a suburban woman in the middle of a divorce. Directed by Todd Haynes, the movie follows Therese and Carol as they pursue their mutual attraction through coded language — and then let their relationship flourish. Therese comes of age; Carol affirms her identity. "They don’t suffer as a result of their sexuality," screenwriter Phyllis Nagy told Refinery29 in an interview this summer. "They suffer over other things, but not that."
In an essay for New York, Frank Rich notes that the film allows its audience to "realise how much we don’t know about a past that unfolded in the shadows until not very long ago." He also points out that "lesbians rarely receive the same measure of attention as gay men in our culture, pop culture included." But the on-screen history of romance between women goes back a long way — at least to 1931. So, in honour of Carol, we decided to explore that rich history, from the crass and exploitative to the mature and thoughtful. Click ahead for our list.