Under any other circumstances, My Policeman might not have attracted much attention. It’s a small, quiet period drama, adapted from the 2012 novel by Bethan Roberts about a gay love triangle, during a time in the UK when homosexuality was illegal. But the simple act of casting the world’s biggest pop star invites scrutiny, not just from die-hard Directioners. This is Harry Styles’ first lead role, and all eyes are on him.
Let’s address the Grammy-winning elephant in the room: as policeman Tom, Styles is fine. He’s solid. As in Don’t Worry Darling, he's best utilised as an object of desire — when that famous charisma and star power are worked into narrative beats. His casting makes most sense in the film’s early scenes, when both Marion (Emma Corrin) and Patrick (David Dawson, the film’s Most Valuable Player) start making googly eyes at him. In fact, everyone swoons at his presence: furtive glances of lust flitting every which way — about as racy as post-war Britain ever gets.
If anything, My Policeman relies too heavily on the charm of its actors and the handsome period stylings around them. The script, by Ron Nyswaner, is fatally thin, an adaptation which strips away the inner monologues of the book and ends up fumbling around basic character types instead. We know next to nothing about these people outside of their surface-level attractions and interests (Marion likes “culture”, and says as much). The dialogue, meanwhile, lurches all too frequently into stilted awkwardness. A good actor would have trouble with lines like, “We’re just two confused people, aren’t we?”; an inexperienced actor, understandably, is only left to struggle.
The struggles and secrecy of its story might have felt revelatory 30 years ago; today it veers on hammy.
Clichés soon stack up: there is a shimmering dissolve, to indicate a flashback (you can almost hear the harp); a hand makes wave motions out of the open window of a moving car, an indie staple; and in one mildly excruciating scene, Patrick draws Jack like one of his French girls. (“Ordinary people have the best faces,” says Patrick, without intentional irony, of a Vogue magazine cover star.)
The modern-day drama plays out a little better, as veteran players Linus Roache, Gina McKee and Rupert Everett fill their faces with regret (even if some accents have mysteriously changed during the intervening years). But it’s all so deeply dour. Everything, from the actors’ hair downwards, is grey — nothing but weepy, wistful looks and stiff upper lips.
And while it certainly doesn’t skimp on sex scenes, as a queer film it feels oddly old-fashioned. The struggles and secrecy of its story might have felt revelatory 30 years ago; today it veers on hammy. That’s not to say these brutal, unjust histories shouldn’t be told. But you wonder if the gay experience needs to characterised, yet again, by way of homophobic slurs, violent assaults, and gay relationships existing only at the expense of heterosexual ones.