My Policeman arrives in selected cinemas on October 21 and Prime Video on November 4.
Based on the novel by Bethan Roberts, Michael Grandage’s adaptation of My Policeman is a mixed bag of visual beauty and dramatic disappointment. While there is a lot to love in its visual splendour, My Policeman doesn’t allow its characters the space to fully explore the emotional complexities of the themes at its heart. Here its attempts to provide an essential exploration of British gay history and the lasting impact of state oppression are sadly torpedoed by a lack of dramatic depth.
Weaving together two timelines in the lives of three people, My Policeman opens in the quiet seaside town of Peacehaven in 1999, where we meet the unhappily married Marion (Gina McKee) and Tom (Linus Roach). Marion has opened their home to Patrick (Rupert Everett), who has recently suffered a significant stroke. From the outset, it’s clear that Tom begrudges the arrival of Patrick, as he refuses to speak to or see him, while Marion feels a duty to care for him in his hour of need.
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We are then taken back to Brighton in 1957, where the young Tom (Harry Styles), a policeman, begins an uneasy relationship with the young Marion (Emma Corrin), a teacher besotted by Tom’s good looks and easy-going manner. Tom soon introduces Marion to Patrick (David Dawson), a museum curator who becomes a close friend to them both. However, Tom and Patrick are much more intimate than Marion thinks.
In a time where being gay is illegal and the police hunt ‘queers’ on the streets of Brighton, Tom and Patrick’s secret affair would threaten their freedom and future. As a result, Tom marries Marion. But when Marion discovers Tom and Patrick’s affair, her world crumbles, and Tom becomes caught between the man he loves and the woman he deeply cares for. The ripples of the events that follow soon turn into waves as Tom, Marion, and Patrick see their world fall apart. But as we journey back to 1999, could the arrival of the gravely ill Patrick in Peacehaven finally help heal the unspoken pain of the past?
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Visually, My Policeman is a delight, as cinematographer Ben Davis uses a broad, vibrant colour palette of seasonal hues to reflect the emotions onscreen. The casting is also near perfect, with Corrin and Dawson exquisitely conveying the growing tension between Marion and Patrick as they silently but fervently fight for Tom’s heart. Meanwhile, Everett and McKee quietly portray the years of pain and heartache they have amassed through a single look and gesture as Marion desperately attempts to absolve her sense of guilt through her new role as a carer.
But one problem quickly derails these positives, Tom, who feels like a mere shadow in the presence of Patrick and Marion. Some will no doubt blame Styles, whose matinee looks are far more impressive than his emerging acting ability. But in truth, the problems with Tom go much deeper. The only points where young Tom feels complete are the delicate and intimate sex scenes he shares with Patrick; while understandable, this never allows us the space to identify with Tom outside of the bedroom. These intimate scenes are also where we see Styles at his most comfortable and confident in his character – his scenes against Dawson and Corrin far more of a stretch for his fledgling acting abilities.
Meanwhile, Roach is never given the space to explore Tom’s later years, spending most of the time walking his dog along Peacehaven’s coast. While this demonstrates the emotional disconnect Tom has built, it never allows us to get under his skin.
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These weaknesses may stem from the narrative path set out in Robert’s novel, where the character of Tom is seen through the eyes of Marion and Everett. But Grandage instead opts to place Tom centre stage without fully developing the internal conflicts that haunt him. The result is a clunky and hollow exploration of the internalised homophobia that keeps him imprisoned and unable to accept his own needs and desires. It’s clear he loves Marion and Patrick, but Tom is unable and unwilling to accept the impact of his choices on both partners. One of My Policeman’s most significant flaws is its refusal to allow Tom’s character to explore these themes fully.
As a result, My Policeman often feels like a paint-by-numbers gay drama. Here it fails to fully explore the state oppression that destroyed the lives of so many gay men due to the criminalisation of gay sex and the discrimination that continued long after the law changed in 1967. That’s not to say Grandage’s film doesn’t try, but its profound themes of fear, denial, betrayal and internalised homophobia ultimately lack space, time and depth. My Policeman isn’t a bad film by any means, but its lack of dramatic depth fails to elevate it from being anything more than a visual treat.
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My Policeman isn’t a bad film by any means, but its lack of dramatic depth fails to elevate it from being anything more than a visual treat.