It almost feels as though this film requires no introduction, having been talked about so much by critics and tweeters alike, but we at rrramble couldn't resist giving our writers the chance to give their thoughts on My Policeman. Telling the story of a forbidden queer love in the 1950s, with a spicy love triangle to boot, our writers are bound to have plenty of thoughts, and that's ignoring the pop-star elephant in the room. The controversy that has dogged Harry Styles' acting career might have you believe that this but a one-man film, but with heavy hitting star power like that of Rupert Everett and Emma Corrin, does My Policeman have the ability to arrest our writers, or do they wish Harry Styles never crossed that Fine Line into a film career. Okay, I'll stop with the puns, read on to find out...
“I can’t draw you if I don’t know who you are,” an excellent David Dawson, as Patrick, tells Styles’ policeman Tom.
I can’t review My Policeman without understanding its leads or story’s motivations. After viewing, I’m unsure on both counts – and as a gay man, seeing a project with vital truths and tragedy to explore waste the opportunity is frustrating to say the least.
Let’s highlight the strengths, all understated: an effective use of Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, which gave the headline love scene some texture. Gina McKee makes good use of some unnecessary flashbacking; and there’s attempts at subtlety – brave for Amazon.
Booking Harry clearly put any other ambitions to bed, however, the result is a lack of drama, focus and story. Starting there, it’s always worth noting that a piece with lots of plot and little exploration of the consequences *doesn’t work*. The familiar language of LGBTQ historicals fills My Policeman, so leaves barely any time for any point of view, or depth and insight into writer Ron Nyswaner’s thinking. There is plenty of romance and cuts to a growingly anxious Emma Corrin as Marion, great; but nothing lingers to make me feel or care for these characters. I’m still surprised, writing this. Where’s the urgency to this film? Why start at the end and what was the motivation for this, if you want to land some surprise? Where’s the anger at homophobia? (Rage exists, but, oh, is it a bungled effort – blame fast plotting for that).
Lots of questions, and two biggies emerging from the themes: how to be, and how to love? Pursuing answers for both lends My Policeman no favours, its priorities confused and storytelling telescopic. It coasts along with thinly penned voices, and too often relies on the audience’s acquaintance with the genre to cover this.
There are teases of hits for a better film, among the misses. In one scene where Styles’ light touch serves his role well, Tom tells Patrick why he intends to marry Marion, his commander having suggested that it’s trickier for bachelors to progress in the force. In another, the PC watches his curator lover be brought into the station, arrested. For Patrick, what follows in his cell is bleak – the one moment I was moved.
What these moments share is a solution to the mishmash: they offer opportunity for Styles to *anchor* this and explore Tom’s perspective. One of seeking definition in wearing the uniform while facing up to the challenges the period’s realities present and navigating his heart, arguably the piece’s biggest interest. Honestly, a more skilled actor can do that and yet I want to give this popstar choice a chance. To honour that, I’ll ask Harry: in your artistic endeavours, when are you going to give yourself *up*? This is not the request for clarity on who you are, but for a performance, in music or drama, that journeys deep, resonates, and allows your truest colours to shine through.
Really, I’ll wait.
Boys in Mustard > Boys in Blue
Since I saw the trailer for My Policeman I have been eagerly awaiting the chance to see it, especially as I am at a point in my life where I am getting tired of the heteronormative state of modern media and instead crave more LGBTQ+-focused stories and more diverse characters portraying said stories.
Plus, I’m working on a crime-thriller novel featuring two gay men in the 1920s and perhaps wanted to scope out the competition.
I’m going to start this review by saying what we’re all thinking: it’s time we stop giving Harry Styles acting roles. Please. It’s okay to not be good at things, Harry, you’ve still got music! Let that be enough. I want to get this out of the way first because truly I can’t tell if the choice of casting was made in an attempt to widen its audience pool or if somehow they genuinely just thought Harry brought something to the role. I also don’t know which would be worse.
But, sadly, more than just Harry disappoints me about this film, and I think more people are aware of the Harry problem than the rest of it. So let’s get into that.
I found the whole story rather bland for what it could be. The topics that this film covers are repression, the battle with one’s identity, secrecy, and adultery to name a few. It’s poignant and relevant and full of potential. But it wasn’t executed well. Rather, it felt like another typical love triangle story in which I find the one character I’m supposed to be sympathetic to, Tom Burgess (Harry Styles), actually ends up annoying me.
The dialogue feels flat, and the very real pain that many gay men went through of having to marry for appearances feels less like a trial for Tom as I rather feel like he is stringing Marion (Emma Corrin) and Patrick (David Dawson) along. Like he’s having his cake and eating it too without considering the feelings of the other two involved -- which I don’t think was the point. I had expected to be witness to three individuals bonded by the harshness of the world, but who cared for each other anyway. A found family of sorts. Love. I expected to see love.
I am unsure, again, if this is down to the casting choices, or if this is simply an instance of a bad adaptation turning what I understand to be a truly beautiful novel into a rather mediocre film.
For me, there is so much more that could have been explored in regards to Tom’s psychology and motivations. There was a definitive lack of depth to both Marion and Patrick in the same breath. Marion serves as nothing more than a poor broken hearted woman on the sidelines and Patrick a guilty pleasure. I want to see more from their mindsets, their views, their own heartache between their love for Tom and the right thing to do.
Overall I'm glad My Policeman was made, because I do want more Queer-focused media, but I think for what it could have been, this film fell flat for me.
Can we appreciate the casting though?
As someone who’s already given half my savings to One Direction’s former golden boy Harry Styles in concert tickets and album sales, it was inevitable that I was going to finally come round to his acting endeavours, especially considering the queer notions of My Policeman. My excitement was tempered, though, by the controversial media flurries surrounding both My Policeman and Styles' other recent acting endeavor Don’t Worry Darling. However (controversial opinion ahead) it needn’t have been, because I found in My Policeman an intimate and sincere portrayal of the complexities of gay male trauma in the 1950s.
Unlike certain depictions of gay male relationships in mainstream cinema, where the dynamics of the relationships themselves feel like contributary factors to the relationship’s eventual downfall, the sense I was left with in My Policeman was that all the characters - even Emma Corrin’s portrayal of jilted wife Marion - were simply victims of their circumstance. Which is no small wonder, considering the mounting tension of the time between law enforcement and gay men simply attempting to live out their lives. The film encapsulated this political pressure in an impressively intimate way through Styles’ character Tom’s personal struggle between his position as an officer and his repressed gay identity.
Even more impressive is that the film painted no singular character (except, perhaps, David Dawson’s stunningly sad Patrick who can truly do no wrong in my eyes) as morally right or wrong. To me, it highlighted all the intricacies of gay male struggle at the time; often they would drag women dishonestly into their lives in pursuit of a public sheen of ‘normalcy’ and sometimes they would hurt them in the process. However, as encapsulated by Styles’ understatedly emotional portrayal of Tom (intercut with an equally moving performance by Linus Roache as older Tom), these actions often came as a result of their own fear, hurt and shame. Further, Marion committed her own sins in reporting Patrick to the police, and yet it was hard to not be stirred into sympathy in her final scene where she confesses her wrongs and realises she never truly had a place in Tom’s life.
Despite swirling criticism of Harry’s acting - including calls for him to simply stick to making music - I felt his understated portrayal fit the film. There were certainly moments where his novice skills were, I fear, being propped up by the incredibly capable Corrin and Dawson, but I actually feel Styles was especially suited to this role. Any moments where the audience might ask more of him could be argued away in understanding that the role of Tom had emotional repression written in. I loved that the film wasn’t a two-hour study in queer trauma-porn, and I don’t think that could’ve been the case if we’d seen Dawson in fits of rage or Styles howling at his lover’s arrest. What the actors did give us was chemistry, and spades of it.
Aside from the acting, the film is visually beautiful, a standout shot being when the three main characters sit in a wine bar shown through a yellowy lit up window. The use of hands throughout the film was enthralling, and the closing shot of Tom’s hand on Patrick’s shoulder left me in tears, as did older Tom’s cries to Marion that he can’t live alone. Honestly, the film left me emotionally scattered; but the greatest feeling, which I feel I might share with My Policeman’s critics, was anger. Not at having wasted two hours of my life, but at the multitude of wasted months, years and decades of my queer forebears’ lives.