"My Policeman" Review
One hot commodity out of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was Harry Styles's return to acting in the romantic drama My Policeman. It looked to be his most serious and meaty role to date, which isn’t a high bar considering his most prominent work has been a supporting one in Christoper Nolan’s Dunkirk and a post-credits cameo in Eternals. Now with My Policeman, Styles gets his first crack at being a leading man. Unfortunately, he squanders it, turning in only a so-so performance. As for the rest of the movie, it’s an unamusing love story that has the tone and script of a corny soap opera.
In 1950s Brighton, Tom Burgess (Styles) is a police constable who has just married schoolteacher Marion (Emma Corrin). In the midst of the early days of their union, Tom becomes swept up in a closeted homosexual affair with museum curator Patrick (David Dawson). Apart from the legality of the affair in an extremely homophobic society, it also takes a toll on the love triangle, with the effects lasting far into the future.
Adapted by Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia, The Painted Veil) from the novel by Bethan Roberts, the narrative shifts back and forth between the perspectives of Patrick and Marion, with Patrick’s side of the story taking place in the 1950s and Marion’s when they’re older as she finds his old journal that reveals the ugly truth. That framing device had the potential to be something unique, but unfortunately, My Policeman doesn’t make it all worthwhile. Although switching between storylines is one way to keep audiences focused, engagement is often missing.
Of course, Styles is the biggest selling point here. Between this and Don’t Worry Darling, I don’t think he’s given us anything game-changing. To his credit, he’s not doing anything atrocious or meme-worthy like some moviegoers would say. Here he seems to be finding his footing as an actor, often looking as if he’s using every technical trick in the book to cover up his natural deficiencies.
Luckily, he finds compatibility with Dawson and Corrin at his side, but even they can’t elevate this movie to new heights. Looking back on it now, it seems as if inexperienced filmmaker Michael Grandage (only his second feature film effort after 2016’s universally forgotten Genius. How someone could make a movie with Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Linney so dull is beyond comprehension) told them to step back and let Styles run the show. In a scene where the three are sitting down together at dinner, Tom has a moment of rage regarding how he conducts his marriage. He takes his feelings out on Patrick, who, along with Marion, doesn’t respond with much. That moment is a showcase of Grandage’s mistake of shifting focus towards Styles rather than the more experienced actors of the group. It’s doubly surprising considering Grandage’s claim to his directorial fame comes from the stage, so you would think he would have a handle on the material and the actors.
My Policeman does attempt to showcase the UK’s unfortunate history with homosexuality as we see Tom arrest citizens accused of being gay. There was real potential for Nyswaner and Grandage to mine the impactfulness of that message, along with Tom’s handling of it. Instead, like everything else, it’s washed away by shallow execution and a desire to focus on stars rather than substance.