Harry Styles sheds his glam popstar image, yet leans into the sexual ambiguity that sometimes garnishes his celebrity, starring as the center of attention in the teary English period drama, My Policeman (★★☆☆☆).
Styles plays Tom Burgess, a rookie constable in seaside ’50s Brighton, and an object of desire and affection for both schoolteacher Marion (The Crown’s Emma Corrin) and museum director Patrick (David Dawson).
Marion sees him first, we’re led to believe. She and Tom haven’t laid eyes on each other since they were kids when she spots him strolling on the beach one brisk summer day, and instantly falls for him.
Director Michael Grandage conveys clearly that, Marion’s virginal innocence notwithstanding, she’s smitten with Tom’s beauty. They read together and take in arts and culture, but the way she watches him swimming, his torso glistening in the water — unmistakably, Tom excites both her body and mind.
Adapted from Bethan Roberts’ 2012 novel, the film first adopts Marion’s point-of-view in the present day. Decades older and seemingly more worldly, Marion (Gina McKee) moves downtrodden Patrick (Rupert Everett), now a post-stroke invalid, into the cozy cottage she shares with Tom (Linus Roache).
She’s both saintly in her generosity as a caregiver, and apparently carrying out some act of penance. But why?
The script, by Oscar-winning Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, unfolds a mystery, intertwining Marion’s recollections with Patrick’s version of long-ago events, as described in the diary that arrives with him to Marion and Tom’s house.
When Patrick first meets Tom and Marion in 1957, the couple are charmed by his knowledge of arts and literature. In a sense, he woos them both. But we can gather who he’s really after, even before clues start to mount that Tom and Patrick have spent more time together than Marion might have suspected.
Their love triangle, fraught with jealousy and betrayal, plays out in an era depicted as extremely hostile towards homosexuals. “It’s unnatural,” Marion exclaims, sounding like a woman of her times condemning the life Patrick tries hard to keep hidden.
The film offers little joy in rebuttal to the dour oppression Patrick suffers from a society that criminalizes queer people. “It’s hell being alone,” he writes in his journal.
So he’ll take what he can get, the film supposes, even if it’s just barely sharing this married, bisexual policeman. Dawson imbues Patrick with dignity and poise, despite a plot that drives the character to the depths of despair and desperation.
The romantic chemistry between him and Styles doesn’t exactly singe the screen, but Grandage stages a tenderly sensual first-touch scene between the two men, with Tom grazing his finger along the inside of Patrick’s shirt collar. Moments later, the pair is steaming up the boudoir in a tastefully nude hookup that might send some Styles fans into cardiac arrest.
The singer-actor otherwise acquits himself adequately rendering Tom’s semi-closeted sexual confusion. But the film lets the character off pretty easily for his constant, willful deception and self-serving behavior.
And it definitely lets Marion off too easily for her homophobia, expressed viciously after she discovers Tom and Patrick’s affair. Her attitudes are more or less excused as the by-product of a ’50s wife’s understandable anger about a “pervert” targeting her husband.
Corrin and McKee’s performances complement each other well in portraying Marion’s journey from naïve newlywed to wiser retiree weighing the cost of her actions back then, and in the years since.
Still, no one in the story pays a price like Patrick, reduced to an immobile, barely verbal, completely dependent shell of his former self, a sadly retro representation of the tragic queer.
Stuck weeping in his wheelchair, or groaning insistently from his sickbed for a forbidden cigarette, Everett doesn’t have much to do in the role. Neither does Roache as the prickly, remote older Tom, incorrigibly upset that Marion brought Patrick into their home, and back into their lives.
Tom avoids all contact with their invalid guest, occupying himself on long walks with the dog. Although, the movie does cleverly imply that he’s probably still up to his old tricks. And he, Patrick, and Marion all get the respective endings the story feels they deserve — about which not everyone will agree, because Patrick absolutely deserves better.
My Policeman is playing at Landmark’s E Street and Bethesda Row Cinemas, and will start streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday, Nov. 4. Visit www.landmarktheatres.com or www.amazon.com.
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