For a film set in the 1950s and released in 2022, “My Policeman” feels strangely reminiscent of the studio dramas of the late 2000s: bland historical films that still manage to sink their hooks into audiences because they hit all the major melodramatic beats.
Harry Styles plays Tom, the titular policeman and a charismatic fellow who captures the attention of Marion, a young schoolteacher in Brighton played by Emma Corrin. The couple bonds with Patrick, an art curator played by David Dawson, after Tom meets him while on duty.
Tom begins to live a double life, marrying Marion but continuing a passionate love affair with Patrick on the side. At a time when homosexuality was illegal, Tom feels conflicted: he wants to have a family with Marion but can’t deny his love for Patrick.
Forty years later, Patrick, now recovering from a stroke, comes to live with Tom and Marion at their quaint seaside cottage. The film jumps back and forth between past and present as the older versions of Tom, Marion and Patrick confront their complicated pasts.
“My Policeman” does nothing to differentiate itself from other LGBTQ dramas that tell a similar story. While the film's sensuality is appropriately modernized, the other elements are painfully dull — the generic orchestral score and historical conflict feel ripped from its predecessors.
Don’t get me wrong — “My Policeman” is a perfectly fine drama. But in 2022, haven’t the standards for LGBTQ cinema been raised? Hasn’t the film industry moved on from making LGBTQ stories that only portray suffering and inner turmoil? When films do center on queer struggles, immense nuance is needed for them to not feel melodramatic and borderline exploitative. “My Policeman” is moving, but the film simply doesn’t do enough to justify its existence.
While watching the film, I found myself thinking about James Ivory’s “Maurice.” The 1987 adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel of the same name shares many similarities with “My Policeman.” Both films are based on novels, follow a repressed protagonist during a time when homosexuality was illegal in England and star a classic “pretty boy” — Hugh Grant and Harry Styles — in the main supporting role.
But the writing in “Maurice” is rich. It’s literary, but still cinematic. The relationship between the two main characters is layered and complicated, something that can’t be said for that of Tom and Patrick. “Maurice” isn’t concerned with reminding us that it used to be worse for queer people, it simply uses the time period to tell a story of perseverance, identity, class and love.
Because the effectiveness of the film relies heavily on the lead performers’ authenticity, casting Styles was certainly a choice. While he gives a better performance than in “Don’t Worry Darling,” he still feels like an alien amongst talented actors like Corrin and Dawson. You can tell he tried his best, but unfortunately, his line delivery feels unnatural; it appears as though he overthought every line of dialogue before speaking. Dawson — an established theatre actor — is particularly fantastic. He’s a quiet force of nature, with his controlled performance lingering in the viewer’s mind even after the credits roll.
“My Policeman” has a beating heart. Its themes of self-acceptance and persevering love are timeless, but the dull execution just makes me want to watch better versions of the same story.
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