London 2022

My Policeman review – a love triangle of mostly surface pleasantries

Michael Grandage’s adaptation makes for rather placid viewing but is elevated by David Dawson's transcendent supporting turn

As soon as the opening credits begin to roll, My Policeman introduces itself as the kind of movie you’d find playing at your parents’ house on Sunday television. That typeface – Century Gothic? For a title card? A perfectly tolerable choice, yes, but one that rather often indicates a lack of true inspiration. Surface pleasantry, verging on blankness. Century Gothic is not a good omen.

Alas, most of My Policeman doesn’t manage to rise above the muted expectations set by its choice of typeface. Michael Grandage’s second feature film – a screen adaptation of Bethan Roberts’ 2012 novel of the same name – is the story of a policeman, a schoolteacher, and a museum curator entangled in a love triangle. The question at the triangle’s crux: who lays claim to policeman Tom’s heart? Marion, the gentle teacher he has married? Or Patrick, the charismatic curator with whom he is having an illicit and passionate affair?

My Policeman jumps between 1950s Brighton, where our trio navigate the ruinous impacts of state and society-enforced homophobia, and the hazily-defined present, where all are elderly and Patrick is recovering from a stroke (could this movie also be called Triangle of Sadness?) Memory, unresolved conflict, and decades of secrecy bleed across these two eras, though the film performs its temporal jumps with a noticeable clumsiness. Unfortunately, a fade-out transition into an abrupt change in colour grading does not make for a compelling time-skip device.

On abruptness: one must address Harry Styles as the titular policeman. Delivering a sorely uninhabited performance – you never forget that he is acting, and not very well – Styles enunciates his lines with a woodenness that suggests he’s got a teleprompter sitting just out of frame (allow me the parlance of the youth: it’s giving GCSE drama.) As a scene partner to the usually excellent Emma Corrin as Marion, who isn’t even at the top of their game, Styles’ inability to access any emotional depth is striking. Failing to embody any true subjectivity, his best moments here are owed to that of his co-stars. Policeman Tom only feels like a believable character when he is silent and admired by the camera, beheld by Marion or Patrick’s gaze.

My Policeman repeatedly returns to the image of waves crashing violently against a picturesque English coast – yet while it clearly aspires to a similar turbulence and power, only David Dawson summons such emotional force. It is remarkable, given how placid the film feels otherwise, how transcendent Dawson is as the tragically lovestruck Patrick: with every flinch, blink, and gesture of a wrist, he single-handedly makes the case for this film’s existence, if only to witness his extraordinary talent on the silver screen for the first time. Granted, the film’s much-discussed, Hiroshima mon amour-inspired sex scenes are indeed luxurious and beautiful. But this, too, is in no small part due to Dawson; the magic rather evaporates as soon as Styles begins perfunctorily grunting.

It’s not a badly-made film, and My Policeman is entirely worth watching for one stellar lead performance. But Dawson will probably prove to be the only memorable and impactful aspect that makes it to shore – the rest, unfortunately, is likely to sink beneath the waves.

My Policeman was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2022. It will be released in UK cinemas on 21 October 2022.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio review – pure poetry in stop-motion

The director's first animated feature, a bold musical reimagining, is a spellbinding cinematic song of life, death and innocence

Lady Chatterley’s Lover review – well-acted and raunchy Netflix adaptation

Emma Corrin impresses in Laure de Clermont-Tonnerr's sexually-charged take on the classic novel, though it fumbles the ending

Spirited review – Apple’s musical take on A Christmas Carol fails to find the magic

Ryan Reynolds and festive sincerity prove a sour mix in this cynical new adaptation. Where are the Muppets when you need them?

Clara Sola review – luscious story of a woman’s fury is a sensual delight

Swedish-Costa Rican director Nathalie Álvarez Mesén explores female desire and emancipation using non-professional actors

Features

Starter Pack: A Guide to Noirvember

As the month-long celebration kicks off again, Steph Green offers a pathway into the most morally murky of all movie genres...

Goran Stolevski on You Won’t Be Alone: “The film is about witches, but it’s also about feelings!”

The Macedonian-Australian director's bewitching debut feature is a Balkan fairytale that grapples with identity and humanity. Fedor Tot talks to the filmmaker ahead of its UK release

10 Must-See Films at BFI London Film Festival 2022

As the latest edition of the festival returns to the capital, Ella Kemp highlights some of this year's most essential features

Every David Cronenberg Film, Ranked

To mark the release of Crimes of the Future, Steph Green sorts the body-obsessed auteur's vast filmography from worst to best...