Film Review – My Policeman
There is one glaring omission with My Policeman (2022), and it is passion. Forbidden love, social conventions, guilt, and forgiveness are all key ingredients for a romantic drama. While those elements are certainly here, the final product is undercooked. This is a stuffy affair. Its languid approach never lets the material take off on an emotional level. Stories of doomed romance hit our heartstrings because “Happily Ever After” is not part of the equation. But there is little that keeps us invested. Instead of burning with desire and longing, the film plods along as though it were simply going through the motions. It’s not a disaster, but it’s so bland that it leaves little to no resonance.
Directed by Michael Grandage and written by Ron Nyswaner (adapting Bethan Roberts’ book) the narrative traces a love story spanning over four decades. In post WWII England, teacher Marion (Emma Corrin) meets and falls for policeman Tom (Harry Styles). The two marry and start building a life together. However, things get complicated when we learn that Tom has been in a relationship with museum curator Patrick (David Dawson). Tom and Patrick have frequent rendezvous together, putting little effort to hide it from Marion. While the three have plenty of laughs and adventures, tension bubbles underneath the surface. This is a rocky love triangle. Simultaneously, gay relationships were not only thought to be obscene but illegal, putting additional strain on them all.
Much of the messiness of this situation can be put on the naivete of youth. Marion, Tom, and Patrick all act instinctively, without stepping back to see the bigger picture. This paints them in an unfavorable light. Patrick pursues Tom knowing that he is now married and desires a family of his own, Tom suppresses his feelings for Patrick with his archaic views of sex and gender roles, and Marion reflects the homophobia of the time to the point where her actions border on hateful. This dynamic lingers for years. Fast forward in time, and a now older Tom (Linus Roache) and Marion (Gina McKee) are living in retirement in a small, waterfront community. Old feelings come roaring back when Marion takes Patrick (Rupert Everett) into their home, who is suffering the effects of a stroke.
Structurally, the narrative is divided into flashbacks, where the older Marion reads from Patrick’s journal regarding his past relationship with Tom. Although Marion is the perspective we follow, it is Patrick’s words and narration that guide us. Ben Davis’ cinematography separates the two sections visually. The past is lit with gold, sepia tones that are traditional to period pieces, whereas scenes in the present are shaded with cold blues and grays to accentuate the lifelessness of the characters’ states. There is a running motif involving eyes and sight – in the way that Tom, Patrick, and Marion see each other as well as how they are perceived by those around them. In one scene, another character reveals a secret to Marion that changes her entire outlook. With one small bit of information, Marion’s entire belief system is put into question, revealing the biases she refuses to acknowledge.
Although the production design is elegant and Grandage’s direction steady and efficient, there just isn’t much of a spark here. The drama between these characters never builds, everyone just seems to be operating at neutral. The actors do what they can but are not given much to dig into. Those portraying the older versions of Tom, Marion, and Patrick have the benefit of experience to help fill their roles. The younger versions do not have this advantage. Harry Styles’ inexperience shows up. His performance is not as bad as reports and gossip may suggest, but he plays Tom as if he were keeping up with everyone else. He has little chemistry with Corrin nor Dawson, which doesn’t help sell the suspense of their love triangle. He’s tasked with displaying moments of raw emotion by yelling and slamming his fist. During intimate scenes, he expresses Tom’s feelings by simply moaning loudly. I’m sure Styles will have more opportunities to expand his acting chops, and he certainly as the looks and charisma to be a leading man. Let’s just consider this a steppingstone.
In some of the great melodramas – the ones of Douglas Sirk, Wong Kar-Wai, and Pedro Almodóvar, to name a few – there was a sense of urgency. The cinematography helped escalate what the characters were going through, so that themes of love and loss carried significant emotional weight. That is sorely lacking in My Policeman. It slogs along in an even pace, never getting too high or too low. Not once was I drawn into this world, the people that inhabit it, or the hardships that they endured. It doesn’t present any deeper insight into the lives of closeted gay couples, nor does it shed any perspective on the establishment of marriage. At certain points, I almost hoped things would fly off the rails if only to induce a response other than tedium.