**This review includes some minor spoilers**
On Friday, October 21, I had the opportunity to see My Policeman in a small sold-out theater in a Boston suburb. The crowd consisted of mostly women, and my small group of middle-aged moms brought the age curve up a bit. I’d hazard a guess from a few shirts and HSLOT bags that more than a few of us were there to support Harry Styles, in addition to seeing the film.
I thought I knew what to expect. After all, I’d read the book and seen all the trailers and watched the leaked footage. And yet. I wasn’t fully prepared for what was to come.
My Policeman is not really about Tom Burgess, though he is the title character. I knew this because of the book, but I forgot. My Policeman is really about Marion, played by Emma Corrin in the 1950s and Gina McKee in the 1990s. Marion, who realizes she’s lost her husband to another lover and does something unforgivable to “save” him and their marriage, only to realize 40 years later that she never had him in the first place. It’s a story of Regret. Wasted time. Redemption. It’s about love and lost love.
I’ve seen several reviewers criticize Harry Styles as holding back in the role of Tom. I think he played Tom exactly right—a stoic, guarded young British man in the conservative 1950s who is thoroughly confused (and terrified, I might add) as to why he is attracted to Patrick (played by David Dawson in the 1950s and Rupert Everett in the 1990s), the local museum curator, and not his lovely girlfriend. He loved Marion, was “fond” of her, was prepared to marry her. His passion is apparent, however, in the scenes with Patrick. He was in love with Patrick, and he comes alive in those scenes. Critics of Harry’s acting are missing the point of his nuanced delivery–focusing too much on his restraint in the role, when that’s exactly the way the role needed to be played.
I want to say something about the love scenes. I jokingly said to my friends after the movie that I know way more about how Harry looks when makes love than I needed to after seeing those scenes. But they weren’t gratuitous—in fact, they were necessary. Every moment you see Tom and Patrick on screen making love is important, almost reverent. The camera angles, the music (and sometimes the silence), the choreography of their movements. It’s explicit, yes, yet no more explicit than I’ve seen on Bridgerton (okay, maybe with a few more moans and a definitive conclusion), but it all felt necessary to the story.
In contrast, the sex with Marion was lifeless–two people going through the motions of the act without even making eye contact. I was so proud of my theater mates, because no one laughed or giggled at any of the sex—I was afraid it would be uncomfortable for some of my young theater-going companions to see Harry so exposed. But it was so respectful. You could hear a pin drop during those scenes. The only time anyone tittered (myself included) was when Tom asked Marion (post-coital) if “it was good.” And it’s so clear on her face that it wasn’t, that when she said “yes” the entire theater giggled at the absurdity.
All of the actors were superb, but I feel it’s my duty to defend Harry. He was beautiful on the big screen. His clean-shaven face and 1950s hair style make him look devastatingly young. I think it’s important to point out something I’ve not seen in any of the reviews I’ve read. The character of Tom is afraid. He’s terrified. He knows what happens to gay men if they are discovered. Patrick tells him of a past lover who was beaten to death. Tom is afraid of being discovered—he’s also afraid of being alone. One of the reasons he marries Marion is that he doesn’t want to be alone. Older Tom (played by Linus Roach) begs her not to leave because he *still* doesn’t want to be alone. Harry plays this combination of fear, confusion, and passion with a nuanced delivery—but sometimes the emotion bubbles up in anger and bursts out of Tom and sometimes he gets drunk to cope with the emotion, and Harry plays those scenes really well, too.
It’s really incredible to me that he hasn’t had much acting experience or coaching—to the point where I would not be surprised if he took some acting classes during covid-19 lockdown. I’m sure he has a natural ability, but he was exceptional—held his own against much more experienced actors.
The framing device of the 90s centered story with flashbacks to the 50s worked really well. The transitions were smooth. The story-telling narration was seamless and not distracting. At one point you see the same scenes from both Marion’s and Patrick’s memories—which gives the flashbacks context as you remember they are fighting for the same man and experience him differently, even when they are all together.
There are no real happy endings here. You realize all the characters have some responsibility for their lives (albeit Marion moreso since she’s the one that initiates their downfall). When the final, terrible confession happens and Tom realizes what Marion did and he accuses her of ruining Patrick–she responds that they “ruined each other.” It’s a realization that hits hard: None of them are perfect, and none of them are blameless. The movie ends like the book with Marion trying to make things right as much as she can given the circumstances.
I loved this movie. Our whole theater cried at the end. I don’t think I’ve been in a theater where the audience collectively cried in that manner. I will see this again to catch more. There’s something about the color scheme. Marion’s clothing in particular has a color scheme that I want to understand (always in gold and blue and green) and I want to go back and see if the same is true for the male characters.
I can’t wait to see the accolades because I’m sure they will come. This is a movie for our age, one that will be important to this generation. I hate to call it “educational” but I do hope that some people see it and learn something or are inspired to do research about our world and how LGBTQ history has evolved. I hope we are able to have conversations about the themes presented.
I applaud the director and producers, and the author of the novel it was adapted from. If you have a chance to see it, please don’t hesitate. You won’t be disappointed.
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