Review: ‘My Policeman’ unspools longing and regret of a Harry Styles-centered sexual triangle
“My Policeman” is an absorbing, resonant, deeply wistful adaptation of the 2012 novel by Bethan Roberts that will probably be best appreciated — stylistically, thematically, romantically — if judged more within the context of its mainly mid-20th century setting than by contemporary expectations.
If anything, the film’s vivid re-creation of a more repressive era, in this case in England, where homosexual activity between men was long illegal (it was first conditionally decriminalized in 1967), proves a stark and crucial reminder of how far LBGTQ+ rights and acceptance have come in much of the world — and perhaps how fragile such equality continues to be.
In 1957 Brighton, a young policeman named Tom (Harry Styles) has a chance encounter with local museum curator Patrick (David Dawson) that turns into something much more than a friendship. Meanwhile, Tom, his unsuspecting girlfriend, Marion (Emma Corrin), and the worldly Patrick form a kind of troika and share an ebullient series of summertime adventures. But when Tom and Marion marry, said trio turns into a pair of duos — and dueling ones at that — and the inevitable emotional, social and sexual complications ensue, including one extraordinarily grave betrayal.
It’s all quite sensitively and credibly handled by the deft cast, director (and acclaimed stage veteran) Michael Grandage and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (“Philadelphia,” “The Painted Veil”). Particularly effective are the ways in which certain moments are informatively, revealingly replayed once we’re let in on the extent of Tom and Patrick’s clandestine romance. The intoxicating love “that dare not speak its name” between the two men is almost tangibly compelling.
The overall story, though, is told in flashback from the 1990s, when we find the older Tom (Linus Roache), Marion (Gina McKee) and Patrick (Rupert Everett) reunited under, to say the least, difficult circumstances: Marion has arranged for Patrick, who has suffered a life-altering stroke, to recuperate with her and Tom (they’re still married but unhappily) in their seaside cottage, against Tom’s wishes.
Directed by Michael Grandage and premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, ‘My Policeman’ is a reminder of the dangers of the recent past.
For the onetime bobby, who’s pretty much shut away the “Patrick” chapter of his earlier life, the mere presence of his ex-lover — profoundly debilitated though he may be — is clearly too much for Tom to bear and he refuses to see him (not easy in such a small house). But, maybe inspired by reading some of Patrick’s old journals or just finally coming to terms with the life she’s settled for all these years, Marion puts her own personal plan into motion. It may not make for a hugely surprising turn but still one that’s beautifully understated and satisfying.
Stirringly shot by Ben Davis (that hallway image of the older Marion secretly watching Tom watching Patrick is a knockout), evocatively scored by Steven Price and peppered with several familiar, well-used standards, the movie could have withstood a bit more behavioral dissection of each of the main characters as well as a stronger recap of their lives between the tale’s two time periods.
In addition, there’s something of a disconnect between the younger and older Tom’s personalities; their essences don’t fully align. There’s a gentle guilelessness and quiet charm to Tom’s 1950s self that seems to have vanished from the surlier, more remote 1990s version (no fault of the capable Roache), the enduring and complex fallout of his affair with Patrick notwithstanding.
Fortunately, young Tom, engagingly played with a kind of accessibly dreamy, everyman charisma by actor-pop star-“it boy” Styles, is largely such an appealing and affecting character that he carries the day here.
Dawson also cuts a provocative, empathetic figure. Corrin and McKee prove well-matched halves of the vulnerable, long-suffering Marion, while Everett makes the most of a small, but intense and arduous role.
Rated: R, for sexual content
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: In limited release; available Nov. 4 on Prime Video
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