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