My Policeman ***
Starring: Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, David Dawson, Gina McKee, Rupert Everett, Linus Roache
Director: Michael Grandage
2022 has felt very much like the year that Harry Styles took over the world. And that’s saying something for a popstar who has spent a decade flanked by legions of fans and was already one of the most famous people on the planet. The former One Direction singer made his first foray into cinema in 2017’s Oscar-winning Dunkirk, but 2022 has seen him finally take the lead in dystopian thriller Don’t Worry Darling and now period LGBT+ romance My Policeman.
When Marion (Corrin – The Crown) meets handsome policeman Tom (Styles) they embark on what she thinks is a conventional romance. Then she meets his friend Patrick (Dawson – The Last Kingdom), a cultured and artistic bachelor, with whom her new beau has a deep bond. Unbeknownst to her, the pair have actually been sleeping together for months, but because being gay is still illegal in 1950s England, they have been forced to keep their relationship a secret and Tom is using her to mask his secret identity.
Told through a dual-narrative, we also meet the characters in the 1990s, with the older Marion (McKee – Notting Hill, In The Loop) insistent that she look after Patrick (Everett – My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Happy Prince) following a stroke, even though Tom (Roache – Mandy, Vikings) really doesn’t want him there. What follows is the joining of the dots between these two stories.
Based on the novel by Bethan Roberts, the film depicts the sad reality for gay people during the first half of the twentieth century that they were forced to hide who they really were for fear of arrest, imprisonment and public shame. Tom and Patrick take different paths, with the former choosing to hide behind a conventional marriage, while the latter lives quietly by himself. Eventually we see how each path works out for them, but in a late scene we witness Tom’s deep regret for his wasted life as he watches a gay couple living openly together. The film is keen to impress that each man’s path was forced upon them by a hostile society and though we do feel sorry for Marion’s part within this, the narrative does well to show us this story through her eyes as she begins to understand that their misery was created by a force greater than themselves. Unfortunately the story in the 50s is considerably more interesting than the one in the 90s, so the film feels uneven right from the starting blocks.
Like all good romances, it’s a tragic love story for sure, except is it really a love story? Tom and Patrick are so different from each other that you can’t help but wonder what on earth their common ground is. Their differences in age, background and hobbies make their attraction seem shallow at best, with Patrick attracted to Tom for his looks and the reverse... well 1950s Brighton won’t have been the easiest place to hook up with men. You can’t help but ask youselves if these characters met in the present day, would they give each other a second look? And when they are actually together on screen, they do very little but have sex, which hardly a relationship makes. This isn’t actually a love story; it’s a lust story.
It also doesn’t help that while the makeup and hair departments have put in a real shift to make Styles look like the perfect 50s dreamboat, he is cast opposite actors who look positively dowdy in comparison. Sure, we totally get why both Patrick and Marion are obsessed with him, but we don’t get why their affections are returned. He wants a family, he wants normalcy and he wants to hide in plain sight, but the casting of an international megastar at his zenith is distracting here at best. And, unfortunately, Styles’ acting is somewhat wooden too, meaning that what should have been the production’s biggest asset actually becomes its Achilles heel.
What was an acclaimed narrative has now transformed the novel into a film caught up in the discourse surrounding Styles’ star persona. As debate rages about the value of his gender expression and secrecy about his sexuality, this only feeds into accusations of queer-baiting. There will be plenty of fans who tune in solely to watch Styles get down and dirty with another man – and the film doesn’t disappoint on that front – but for anyone a little more critical of the star as a quietly provocative woke warrior, this is like throwing petrol on a bonfire.
Of course it’s a moving drama with plenty to say about Queer history in the UK. It depicts a tragic but ordinary story from a time where every LGBT+ person had a heartbreaking history, but the whole thing is overshadowed by the perplexing casting of a megastar in a role wholly unsuited to the distraction of his fame.
UK Release: Out now in cinemas and on Amazon Prime