Harry Styles Stars In Poignant Romance For Three [TIFF]

Jan 8, 2023

TORONTO – There is something overly familiar about Michael Grandage‘s “My Policeman.” Considering the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in media over the decades, tales of closeted gay men and their troubles are not exactly new. And stories about gay men who marry women to protect themselves from public persecution? Well, that’s a tale as old as time. But when the credits roll, something about this adaptation of Bethan Roberts’ novel of the same name seems to resonate in ways you wouldn’t initially expect.
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A world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, “My Policeman” begins in what we assume are the late 90s or early ‘00s. Marion (Gina McKee) is a retired schoolteacher who lives on the English coast with her husband. A long-lost friend who needs daily care, Patrick (Rupert Everett), moves in to stay with them. Patrick recently suffered a stroke, and his ability to communicate or walk is hindered. The aforementioned husband, Tom (Linus Roache), wants nothing to do with their new guest and tries to avoid him at all costs. That’s something of a surprise as we soon learn that this trio was the closest of friends. But that was four decades ago.
Initially told through Marion’s recollections, we meet a younger version of herself played by Emma Corrin. It’s 1957, and this version of Marion finds herself swept off her feet by a younger Tom, a friendly and handsome Brighton policeman played by Harry Styles. She assumes they are going out on dates but is only mildly bothered nothing truly comes to pass outside of a peck or two on the cheek. One day, Tom introduces her to a younger Patrick, portrayed by David Dawson. Patrick is a witty, educated, and worldly curator at a local museum. Tom says they met at the scene of an accident, and he offered a free tour of the institution. Of course, that’s not entirely true.
As the film segues from the present day to the past, the perspectives begin to change, and we discover how passionate Patrick and Tom’s love affair was and how Marion became an unwilling participant in protecting their secret. When Tom decides to marry Marion to protect his career, he’s naively under the assumption his affair with Patrick can continue unfettered. When Patrick is outed by an anonymous letter sent to the police, not only is his life forever changed, but so are those of the newly married couple.
A Tony-award-winning stage director, “Policeman” is Grandage’s second narrative film effort after 2016’s middling “Genius.” It might be the source material, it might be personal experience (Grandage has been out for decades), but there is a sensitivity to the material here that elevates it from that aforementioned nagging sense of familiarity. Styles, night and day here compared to his work in that other fall release, wonderfully inhabits a working-class man fearful of public scrutiny but unable to hide his true self when he’s anywhere near Patrick. Dawson is heartbreaking as the latter. Subtly conveying the pain of someone who realizes the love of his life will soon be lost before his love does. While much of the credit for these performances goes to the actors, obviously, Grandage’s attention to detail, especially in the couple’s intimate scenes together, is sublime.
And yet, like many of these stories, it’s the woman at the center of it all who somehow steals the show. Corrin, also quite good in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” is simply fantastic as a young woman whose emotions get the best of her when it matters most. The older versions of the characters do a classy job of bringing the enterprise to its emotional conclusion, although McKee doesn’t quite click as well with Corrin’s portrayal as her co-stars do. Everett, in particular, brings more depth to the incapacitated Patrick than is required. So much so that you wish there was more for him to do.
It might get lost among the prestige trappings and the celebrity casting of Styles, but the historical aspect of this film is truly noteworthy. Especially for those unaware of the treatment of LGBTQ+ in the U.K. during the ’50s and ’60s. Men and women might have been arrested and humiliated publicly for going to a gay bar or event in the United States during this era, but few saw themselves imprisoned for it. That wasn’t the case in many European countries (a horror also depicted in the recent German film “Great Freedom”) and certainly not in Britain. At least not until 1967. That injustice is key to this particular story and the decades of pain that followed it. You just wish the end result broke free of its admittedly pretty period constraints. Maybe that was all necessary for context. Maybe it wasn’t. A little surprise or slight shock wouldn’t hurt, though. [B]
“My Policeman” opens in theaters on Oct. 21.
Follow along with all our coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

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