If My Policeman is a portrait of wasted time, then one wishes it made better use of the minutes it afforded its star-crossed lovers. My Policeman adapts the novel by Bethan Roberts about the tragedy that gay love stories often face. The film is the tale of Tom (Harry Styles) and his forbidden love for Patrick (David Dawson). Unfortunately, there are few sparks to give any sense of the romance that haunts both men into their golden years. My Policeman is a cold movie in which love is spoken of, but never felt. It’s disappointing to see such a stale portrait of gay life and love on the heels of the assaultive PR campaign that heralded it.
My Policeman admittedly has good intentions as it revisits the recent history in which it was a crime for queer people to realise their love. However, stories of heartache and tragedy too often define queer cinema, and My Policeman doesn’t change that. On the heels of fellow TIFF selection Bros, which premiered in the same venue two days prior and felt like a game-changer with a refreshingly contemporary gay rom-com that was deeply rooted in the history that came before it, My Policeman is a familiar story that brings little new to the table.
A Familiar Tale
Admittedly, director Michael Grandage (Genius) and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) faithfully capture the story of Roberts’ novel. However, the soul is missing. Tom flirts between his wife, Marion (The Crown’s Emma Corrin), and his true love, Patrick, as the hours fade. The story weaves between past and present as the love triangle returns decades later. Marion, played in later years by Gina McKee, takes Patrick (Rupert Everett) under her care following a stroke. Patrick pines for Tom (Linus Roache), but the latter recoils at the thought of seeing his former flame. As the years weave between the lovers and their younger selves, My Policeman offers few glimpses of warmth.
In the flashbacks, Tom, the titular policeman, begins courting Marion, a teacher. They seem to be an amiable match until Tom introduces Marion to Patrick, his museum curator friend. What ensues is both a love triangle and an early pseudo-throuple. In the hetero thread, My Policeman affords moments of tenderness and heartache as Tom tries his best to love Marion. There are genuine exchanges that illustrate what it means to build a relationship.
Sparks Don’t Fly
Alternatively, Tom’s relationship with Patrick is pure sex. My Policeman reduces gay romance to a few scenes of friction. The intimate scenes in My Policeman afford Tom a sense of self-discovery, but there’s more to gay life than just sex. In devoting so much of the limited screentime afforded to Tom and Patrick’s trysts, My Policeman shortchanges the time the men have together. More grievously, My Policeman offers no sense of the men’s interior lives because it limits their story to carnal desires.
It doesn’t help, either, that the young actors have little chemistry. The film’s phoney-baloney Oscar campaign, launched with an ensemble prize from TIFF’s Tribute Awards that reeks of a publicity effort to ensure all stars were in attendance, can’t hide the tepid emotional sparks. While the coldness between Styles and Corrin rings true to the story, there’s zero heat between Styles and Dawson. The light and shadows reflect lovingly off Styles cheekbones, but he’s limited as an actor. There’s little going on behind those wonderful eyes. As opposed to, say, the devastating water behind Everett’s eyes as the elder Patrick.
Passion without a Pulse
The love scenes, moreover, are choreographed to the point of being clinical. They let viewers see some cheeks without feeling any heartbeats. Compare the trysts of My Policeman to the rough-and-tumble coupling of Bros, which gloriously let Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane slap one another with manly delight: there’s a huge difference when a sex scene has a palpably passionate pulse and the other plays like dead fish at a market. One really gets a sense of the pleasure the men take in discovering each other in Bros, and the barriers they break down as they negotiate the path to intimacy while overcoming the guards they created to protect themselves from a world that’s taught them to deny what they feel. Audiences learn so much about Bobby and Aaron by watching them get hot-n’-heavy in Bros, whereas My Policeman basically offers the very queer-baiting vanilla cake that Eichner’s film wryly satirizes.
The only spark of love in My Policeman comes courtesy of Gina McKee as the elder Marion. Her portrait of true devotion gives the film its heart. Particularly strong is her climactic revelation that her act of selfless devotion to be atonement for past cruelty. But My Policeman undercuts its catharsis by giving the emotional weight of its climax not to Tom and Patrick, but to Marion. It’s an odd finale. It positions Tom and Patrick’s partnership within a relatively heteronormative frame that leaves one cold. I’ll admit that by the finale of Bros, I had tears in my eyes. But I felt absolutely nothing by My Policeman’s end.