Film Critic Milly Haire reviews My Policeman, finding that the adaptation leaves much to be desired
This adaptation of Bethan Roberts’ novel has been highly anticipated, directed by Michael Grandage and with a dazzling cast including Harry Styles and Emma Corrin. Set in Brighton in the 1950s and ‘90s, My Policeman tells the heart-breaking story of a policeman, Tom, and his illicit gay affair with a museum curator. At first glance, My Policeman initially promises to be an emotional and powerful watch, but it does not live up to this, and feels rather flat, save for a few redeeming qualities.
The film flashes back and forth in time between the younger Tom (Styles) and his wife Marion (Corrin), as well as Patrick (David Dawson), the curator, and their older selves (Linus Roache, Gina McKee and Rupert Everett respectively). Ultimately, the tension between the three tears them apart, leaving their world as they knew it irreversibly altered.
The melancholic establishing shots of the Brighton coastline are beautiful, creating a quintessentially English atmosphere, and the older casts’ costumes brilliantly reflect the mundanity of their situation. In turn, younger Marion’s clothes are tidy and put together – reflecting her job as a schoolteacher and the seriousness with which she takes her role as new wife – Tom imposing and impressive in his police uniform, and Patrick dapper and smart in his suits.
Corrin is incredible in their role, capturing Marion’s initial naivety and subsequent anguish with a natural ease. Equally, Dawson as Patrick manages to be both bold and vulnerable alternately. Directly opposite these captivating performances, Styles does play Tom with enough conviction that it does not detract from the overall storyline, however, his acting definitely lacks the power and raw talent of his castmates. His delivery at times is rather stilted, which is a shame (although Roache’s Tom is far more developed).
The sensitive themes of the film are handled delicately, and the more intimate scenes do not feel sensationalised or purposeless. Despite this, it is difficult not to question whether an alternative casting choice would have been more successful, particularly considering the buzz surrounding Styles’ involvement; is the novelty of having such a huge name play the lead role worth it, when their performance does not fulfil the demands of the part?
Patrick’s diary is utilised as a crucial storytelling tool, and the use of narration works well, adding intrigue and complexity to the storyline, particularly as this provides the link between the flashbacks and the present day. However, the scenes set in the ‘90s do serve more as a segue into the 1950s scenes, as opposed to feeling just as developed and complex in their own right. The actors playing the older versions of the characters are given far less chance to shine than their younger counterparts, but still manage to make the moments we are given poignant and touching.
The film does an excellent job at highlighting the danger and fear of living as a queer person in the 1950s: the legal repercussions and impact it had on someone’s life – both the risks taken with being involved in the underground gay scene, and the inner torment of repressing one’s identity. However, similar stories have been done before, and My Policeman fails to add anything new to the genre of depressing, queer, period romances.
The moody, blue-tinged colour palette that represents this is interspersed by moments of warmer yellows and oranges, to signify the lighter moments of the film. The composition of certain shots – Tom and Patrick standing side by side in the art gallery, for example – makes for some beautiful stills and short clips, but unfortunately this cinematic element is not carried throughout the whole film. The original soundtrack, composed by Steven Price, is a fitting accompaniment; it is mournful but unobtrusive.
Whilst there are undoubtedly valuable elements within My Policeman, as a fully realised piece of cinema, it feels lacklustre. Corrin and Dawson’s performances, whilst outstanding by themselves, are not enough to rescue the entire film, and it leaves you with a distinctly unsatisfied feeling by the end. The potential of this project is difficult to reconcile with what we are given by Grandage; the premise has a great deal of possibility, and yet it falls short of those expectations. Whilst it will definitely pull on your heartstrings, the devastatingly painful elements of the plot could have been capitalised on significantly more. Ultimately, it has a slightly monotone feel to it, with the tension never quite building high enough to captivate an audience in the way it could have.
My Policeman is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video
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