[Co-published with Geek Vibes Nation as part of its coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.]
For the sake of expediency, I’ll get to the point: Harry Styles is good in My Policeman.
It’s worth acknowledging upfront because the film’s success depends a lot on him and the cast. Stories like that of the titular policeman Tom Burgess are very familiar. Many people who cannot love freely trap themselves in soul-crushing arrangements that leave lasting scars. Without breaking new storytelling ground, My Policeman requires a deep investment in its trio. As one character pointedly asks in the film, “who is My Policeman,” and why should we care?
My Policeman is the story of closeted policeman Tom Burgess, played by Styles and Linus Roache. The older Tom’s unassuming life with his wife Marion (Gina McKee and Emma Corrin) is upended when she invites his former lover Patrick (Rupert Everett and David Dawson) into their home after his stroke. The complicated triad must contend with decades of lies, betrayal, and pain, explored in flashbacks to 1950s England. (Homosexuality was a jailable offense in England and Wales until 1967; Scotland until 1980.)
Despite the hostility of ‘50s British society and the simmering resentment in the Burgess ‘90s home, My Policeman is a surprisingly tender film. Michael Grandage directs with a delicate hand that never intrudes or expressly telegraphs his intentions. He isn’t passive, but you feel the extra care he put into constructing the film’s two distinct eras. When Grandage does aim for stylistic flourishes, the results earn their desired emotion. The film’s ending scene is a startlingly heartfelt resolution to missed opportunities, worthy of its toying with the separate timelines.
My Policeman’s sense of loveliness is core to Tom and Patrick’s early relationship. With Ron Nyswaner’s gorgeous screenplay in hand, Grandage gently pulls the intoxicating warmth and comfort between the two men to the surface, separate but equal to the yearning and trauma. He strikes a compelling, beautiful balance. Tom and Patrick’s love scenes are intense, passionate, and sometimes explicit, but the sweetness remains. (Styles’ controversial comments in Rolling Stone make more sense in this context.) In their quieter and reflective moments, the heat doesn’t dissipate, as if only polite manners keep them from ravishing each other in public.
In the face of such all-consuming love, where does that leave Marion? My Policeman doesn’t paint her as either an outright villain or victim caricature. Instead, Marion is a fully-fledged human, capable of compassion and cruelty when tasked with seeking what she thinks is happiness. Even when her actions and words are reprehensible or predictable, she receives the same tender care as her husband and his lover. (If there is a villain in My Policeman, it is virulent homophobia, responsible for the most brutal moments.)
This brings us back to My Policeman’s cast, responsible for realizing Grandage’s gentle vision. The six-person ensemble is uniformly terrific. Emma Corrin, resplendent as Princess Diana in The Crown, is even better as younger Marion. She covers the widest section of the emotional spectrum and delivers each beat with a magnetic radiance you can’t ignore. As the older Marion, Gina McKee reflects Corrin’s energies while adding a dimension of weariness that compounds Marion’s tragedy. Weariness also informs David Dawson’s excellent performance, alongside heartrending sparks of hope and passion that reflect Patrick’s past experiences.
As for Harry Styles, he gives a good performance, easily his best thus far. He is still figuring himself out as an actor, struggling with a stilted line reading here and slight stiffness there. However, he has moments of greatness, especially with Dawson. The two have palpable romantic and sexual chemistry, and Styles is at his most relaxed and authentic with him. Against such a seasoned cast, Styles holds his own. He proves that, while there’s room for growth, he has a future as an actor if he chooses to pursue it.
My Policeman’s greatest strength lies in its tender approach to its passionate romance. Grandage conceives Tom Burgess’ story with a genuine sweetness that doesn’t stifle its vitality. On the contrary, it feels even more alive because of its preciousness. The film is a quietly devastating effort, reminding us that with love and pain capable of lasting a lifetime, we should always strive for the former.
When faced with the latter, however, My Policeman also reminds us that there can be a path beyond it if we try.
My Policeman is available in select theaters on October 21st and on Amazon Prime Video on November 4th.