Content warning: This article includes mentions of homophobia.
One way to market a film is to use the age-old technique of a stunt cast, and it was for this reason that My Policeman, an otherwise innocuous film, was one of the headline screenings of TIFF 2022. When it was announced that Harry Styles, the British-born singer of international fame, would join the cast of a so-called “gay policeman movie,” the internet swirled with polarizing opinion and unrelenting anticipation.
However, the casting of the film is far from its only merit or detriment. With an interesting story to tell and passionate direction by Michael Grandage, the film is able to touch upon themes of life and love in the context of today, set in the backdrop of the past.
Based on a novel by Bethan Roberts, My Policeman loosely follows the story of English author E. M. Forster, detailing the tale of his decades-long affair with a younger, married policeman in the early 1900s. Known for themes of homosexuality in his later works, Forster’s life is either memorialized or blasphemed in this highly dramatized imagining of lived events.
Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, and David Dawson star in the film as three driven and successful people: young Tom and Marion Burgess, and the somewhat older Patrick, respectively. Each of them lives a distinctly different life in 1950s Brighton. Told from the dual perspective of Marion and Patrick, the film traces the paths of the three characters as their lives become increasingly intertwined to an unconventional and possibly even illicit extent.
The story in the film first begins with crashing waves and sea foam on the turbulent waterfront. An elderly couple, Tom and Marion live by the sea near a peaceful coastal town. Marion awaits the arrival of a visitor: a wheelchair-bound Patrick who requires constant assistance due to immobility from a stroke. Marion acts as Patrick’s aide day and night, but the attitude of Patrick seems to grow increasingly combative in the face of Marion’s goodwill. Tom is also inexplicably hostile to his wife, and essentially ignores the presence of Patrick in their lives. The couple’s living situation deteriorates as the waves outside continue to crash and sound.
As a prelude to the troubled future, the majority of the film occurs in flashbacks. A young Marion and Tom date and marry, and encounter a chic and worldly museum curator named Patrick, who quickly becomes the couple’s best friend. With the motif of roaring waves returning, however, more of the story is revealed, first from the narration of Patrick’s journal and then from Marion’s older, more enlightened perspective. The viewer is able to see the events from the viewpoint of each character and sympathize with individuals who act imperfectly in retaliation to events they cannot control.
One theme that the film strives to capture is the intensity of homophobia in the recent past. Patrick refuses to live inauthentically, but must therefore cope with the prejudice of society by hiding in an underground lifestyle.
Nevertheless, the oppressive society is not so easy to evade, and Patrick finds himself barely escaping danger time and time again. By all accounts, Patrick is a broken man who has had to live with the consequences of belonging to a society that has demonized his identity for many years. He is possessive and desperate to cling on to any semblance of joy, lest it slip away from him like it has so many times before.
My Policeman talks about an all-consuming love, like the all-consuming sea in the film, and how the love one person has for another may not always come to fruition. The water motif returns repeatedly to transition the plot of the film forward. When emotions are high, the waves howl and the colours grow cold. The sea is rarely calm, but when it is, sunlight will appear in a moment of brightness, before freezing Atlantic water comes flooding down once more.
Viewers are hit on the head with pathetic fallacy and chromatic shifts which, although aesthetic, leave little to the imagination, as every emotion is spelled out as soon as they appear. The same ocean is also pictured as repetitious and unchanging, with little conclusion to justify all the build-up. However, despite its stylistic flaws, My Policeman is visually pleasing and thematically intriguing, keeping viewers engaged throughout its ambitious dual timeline and overt social commentary.
My Policeman will be released on Prime Video on November 4.