My Policeman review (TIFF): Harry Styles impresses in period drama
After dipping a hectic toe into the choppy waters of acting in Christopher Nolan’s war movie Dunkirk (2017) and an appearance in Marvel’s Eternals, one of the most famous people on the planet – pop star Harry Styles – made his serious film acting debut this year – with two near-simultaneous film festival premieres. First there was Don’t Worry Darling in Venice, and now we have the drama My Policeman in Toronto. Styles has some serious screen time on both counts, making this the first example of his acting skills to come under scrutiny.
Acclaimed theater director Michael Grandage adapts the 2012 novel My Policeman which focuses on three characters in two time periods – the late 1950s and forty years later in the late 1990s. Marion (Emma Corrin) meets Tom (Harry Styles), who introduces her to his friend Patrick (David Dawson). They become something of a trio, and teacher Marion and museum curator Patrick work to broaden parochial bobby Tom’s horizons by introducing him to art, literature, classical music and music. ‘opera. Although they barely shared a kiss, Tom proposes to Marion and they marry.
In the 1990s, Marion (Gina McKee) and Tom (Linus Roache) take a sick Patrick (Rupert Everett) to their house by the sea. Marion has agreed to take care of Patrick during his retirement, and Tom does not is obviously not happy. Marion discovers Patrick’s diaries from the 1950s, which is how the real story of what happened between the three of them unfolds in flashbacks.
It turns out that it was actually Tom and Patrick who were really the lovers at the center of this romance film. Patrick offers to draw the portrait of Tom in his policeman’s uniform, as he tries to capture the ordinary people of Brighton. They start a passionate affair, which is obviously complicated by the fact that it’s Tom’s literal job to apprehend all the men caught up in the very act they’re enthusiastically participating in.
Emma Corrin, whose career is also taking off quickly since making an impression playing Princess Diana in The Crown, once again delivers an understated performance with plenty below the surface. One of the highlights is the incredibly awkward honeymoon Tom and Marion have at a country house, which Patrick goes to. The storyline does not evolve in a predictable way and all the characters are imperfect. It’s not a clear case of some of them being right or wrong, all three are victims of circumstance and clearly a product of the societal constraints they live under.
Production design (for Maria Djurković) – especially of Patrick’s apartment, which is his haven with Tom – is detailed and revealing. Comparing Patrick’s bohemian, artsy space in rich blues to the bland beige home that Marion and Tom occupied in the 1990s reveals that color and vitality drained Tom’s life.
Equally impressive is Annie Symons’ precise costume design. It’s clear why Tom’s 50s bobby uniform inspires the possessive My Policeman in Patrick’s diaries and there’s a moment when he heroically emerges from a police station like Doctor Who himself. When ’90s Marion finally dons a colorful, coordinated outfit at a defining moment, it’s clear she has drive and purpose for the first time in probably decades. Patrick takes Tom on a brief excursion to Venice as an “assistant”, which must have eaten up a lot of the budget, but really only serves as a final stab in the back for Marion.
Gina McKee has long been a force in British film and television in films like Our Friends in the North (1996), Wonderland (1999) and more recently in the television series Bodyguard. Linus Roache had breakthrough roles in Antonia Bird’s Priest (1994) and Iain Softley’s The Wings of the Dove (1997), and most recently appeared in the television series Homeland. They’re both heartbreaking as older Tom and Marion, who can barely express their feelings or express the weight of the decades of unspoken thoughts they’ve endured. As Patrick suffered a stroke that affects both his speech and movement, Rupert Everett’s performance is limited, but he is impressive for conveying a well of emotion through his eyes.
The film is a flawed look at how homosexuality was targeted as a criminal offense, which increased during the 1950s, including some high profile cases. It wasn’t decriminalized until 1967, but that of course doesn’t mean it was suddenly or magically widely accepted. My Policeman draws some somewhat awkward parallels to how gay people could better date in the 1990s. But it works better as an examination of these three specific people, rather than trying to make broader points about history gay rights in the UK.
While Styles is going to come under scrutiny because of who he is, and people will judge his movie star credentials, this isn’t a starring role — he’s part of an ensemble. While his acting isn’t quite on par with his fellow actors yet, he comes across as naive and inexperienced, which works well for the role of Tom. Tom is a fish out of water in Patrick and Marion’s world, so it makes sense that he would be out of step with them.
My Policeman is an interesting drama that makes good use of its two periods. The cast is solid across the board, and the costume design and production are major pluses. Gina McKee and Emma Corrin both stand out in creating the complicated character of Marion over the decades. A solid but flawed period drama.
My opinion on the policeman
An interesting period drama, with a strong cast across the board, and the costume design and production are strong assets. Gina McKee and Emma Corrin both stand out by creating the complicated character of Marion over two time periods.