‘My Policeman’ review: think Harry Styles can’t act? This soft-centred romance says otherwise

Forget 'Don't Worry Darling', Hazza's latest movie proves he's no Hollywood dunce

By focusing on queer narratives of the past, some historical LGBTQ+ dramas lack bravery when it comes to casting light on the present. Though their main characters are often tragic figures, their desires buried beneath the surface and their past lovers abandoned out of fear and shame, the implication between the lines is often dangerously close to: ‘Poor them… anyway, now things are fine!’ Besides being far from truthful, it can sometimes feel like a narrative shortcut to tugging on the heartstrings.

With events taking place between 1950s Brighton, and the turn of the millennium – its later time-setting in 1999 is sign-posted by Tracey Emin’s My Bed winning the Turner Prize – My Policeman focuses on the doomed love between museum curator Patrick (David Dawson) and local copper Tom (Harry Styles). Until 1967, homosexuality was illegal in the UK, and though Patrick is willing to take enormous risks, Tom instead marries quiet, mousy school teacher Marion to keep up appearances. His hope is that Patrick can “share” him – but the arrangement quickly and predictably falls to pieces, with devastating results. Later in life, an older Marion (Gina McKee) attempts to make amends by inviting a now-elderly Patrick (Rupert Everett) into their home as he recovers from a stroke. In complete denial of everything that went on previously, latter-day Tom (Linus Roache) is disproportionately livid about it, and as Marion snoops through her house-guest’s often raunchy diaries, a series of flashbacks are conjured in slightly tepid, hazy fashion.

Though his various headline-making comments about the film finally portraying “tender” love-making between two men felt misguided – where has he been for the last decade of chaste, utterly sexless gay love stories? – Harry Styles’ performance is still a vast improvement on Don’t Worry Darling’s waxen breadwinner Jack Chambers. While Styles floundered in the former due to his lack of acting chops – every line seemed so tightly tethered to the script that he was unable to portray any kind of secretive past or inner turmoil – his literal, play-to-the-present interpretation actually contributes further to Tom’s deeply-entrenched denial of the past. At times Styles’ casting as an everyman character also results in some unintentional comedy. “Ordinary people have the best faces,” he near-quips as Patrick persuades him to sit for a portrait. “Nobody’s ever asked me to model before.”

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Thanks to the split timelines of the film’s setting, Linus Roache is also able to add further depth to Tom later down the line. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in My Policeman shows Roache’s Tom fleeing a supermarket to sob in his car after laying eyes on a gay couple laughing and joking as they go food shopping. The final scenes of the film, too, are genuinely very moving – simple and affecting in their execution.

Even so, My Policeman suffers at the hands of a slightly depthless script, and all three sides of this sad and wretched love triangle mostly feel like standard-issue archetypes. Though Dawson puts in a stand-out performance as Patrick, a reckless, charismatic person determined to be himself, it’s harder to understand the trapped, wasted lives of Marion or Tom. Besides, how much illumination do we really gain from hearing this same story of hidden shame, over and over again?

Details

  • Director: Michael Grandage
  • Starring: Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, Gina McKee
  • Release date: October 21 (in cinemas), November 4 (Prime Video)
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