This has major spoilers of the film and book so if you have not consumed either, please be warned.
When I was first approached to do this article, I was overwhelmed by the task of picking just a few scenes from the movie to highlight and breakdown. The entire two hours of My Policeman is a masterpiece. Every second of this story is has been meticulously hand picked and cut together to create the magnum opus that was this film, so how was I supposed to pick just a few moments to focus on and touch on the emotions that are portrayed onscreen, and in turn invoked in the audience?
During this film, there are quiet fleeting moments of vulnerability between the whole cast, from the younger versions of these characters interacting, to the older characters coming back into each other’s lives with Patrick moving in after his stroke. The way that these two timelines are cut together, flipping back and forth between reality and memories as Marion reads through Patrick’s diaries, it’s done in a way that showcases how the passage of time has affected them all, how each of them had their own secrets from one another that ultimately tied their lifetimes together.
I. Patrick and Tom Fight, 1960s
The pinnacle moment of the film occurs when Patrick returns from the Argyle to find Tom sitting on his doorstep, drunk and ready for a fight. As they stand in the foyer to Patrick’s flat, their quiet conversation turns into an argument where Tom accuses Patrick of having an alternate motive to inviting him into his home for his portrait – the culmination of Tom and Patrick’s relationship throughout the film so far comes to a head here in this scene. As a viewer, you watch the plethora of emotions that Tom goes through, from denial to anger and quickly devolving into distress as he battles with his own inner turmoil about his sexuality and his attraction to Patrick.
Patrick moves in to touch Tom’s face, to ask him “did it feel wrong?”, and you watch as Tom’s walls come down, as he yields to Patrick’s advances, to his own wants and needs. David Dawson and Harry Styles play these roles beautifully; watching both of their profiles as they get closer and closer, their pain is evident on their faces. The moment their lips touch, you watch as Tom finally relents, done with pushing Patrick away. He presses him against the wall opposite and begins to strip him, the scene quickly devolving into the reason behind the film’s R rating. However, these scenes depicting Tom and Patrick’s coupling should not be dismissed as throw-away sex scenes for the sake of seeing them naked – these moments are charged with delicate touching, tender embraces, and a gentle artistic depiction of two men coming together without any judgment or apprehension.
II. Marion gives Patrick a sponge bath, 1990s
A truly vulnerable moment of this film is one where an older Marion gives the older Patrick a sponge bath as he lays in bed. Being disabled and incapable of being able to take care of your own hygiene is a humiliating experience, and this film handles this delicate matter in a way that is truthful and compassionate. The scene is cut throughout with a memory of Patrick, Tom, and Marion exploring the Brighton Downs Monument – the delicacy with how they stroke over the marble mirrored in how gentle Marion is brushing the cloth over Patrick’s skin. It also cuts to scenes of the three of them enjoying each other’s company, in the car and at the bar singing together, giddy with each other’s friendship.
Before this moment in the film, Patrick and Marion have not been getting along now that he’s back in her life. He has overheard Tom’s disdain at his presence in their house, has argued with her over cigarettes and over how Tom doesn’t wish to see him, so this quiet back and forth may be a way of showing just how different their dynamic is now that Patrick is disabled and reliant on Marion for his care, as well as how their friendship fell apart all those years before.
Gina Mckee as Marion does a fantastic job of displaying this awkward dynamic between her and Patrick, played by Rupert Everrett, where they need to trust one another for Patrick’s care to go smoothly, but the underlying affair between Patrick and Tom still obviously affects their friendship. Rupert does not have many lines in this film, but his portrayal of a stroke patient is done in a way that isn’t a misrepresentation or mockery of the disability, and he does this portrayal with grace and dignity.
III. Patrick being arrested, 1960s
Later in the film, Patrick is arrested and brought into the precinct that Tom works at to be charged for sexual deviance (if you were homosexual in the early 20th century, you were labeled sexually deviant), and you are immediately brought to your knees by the subtle facial expressions that cross over both of their faces, neither of them needing to utter one word to feel the depth of fear and regret that they are both feeling when their eyes meet. The terror in Patrick’s eyes, the way that Tom is incapable of looking away, speaks volumes. Harry and David do an impressive job in showcasing this scene with just subtle facial expressions, not a word uttered from either of them.
This was the final time that they met before Patrick was brought back into their lives after his stroke 40 years later, so these final glances invoke the feeling of heartbreak, both of them fearing for their lives and livelihoods, regret that things aren’t different.
You can’t help but think about what could have been had Patrick not been arrested, had being queer in the UK not been an criminal offense in the 1960s. How long would Patrick and Tom have continued the affair? Would their relationship have survived the big milestones that Marion and Tom’s marriage were reaching (eg kids)? Would Marion allow Tom to continue their friendship now that she knew the truth?
IV. Marion reveals her betrayal, 1990s
The turning point of the movie is when Marion finally reveals to Tom (both now older and more jaded, their marriage having become more of a casual friendship than something romantic) that she was the one that reported Patrick, sending the anonymous tip to Patrick’s employer when he and Tom were vacationing in Venice together under the pretense that Tom was assisting Patrick in collecting art for the Brighton Museum. This scene occurs in the last 30 minutes of the movie, and Gina McKee (who plays the older Marion) and Linus Roache (who plays the older Tom) do a wonderful job of portraying this confession of her betrayal, with Tom nearly collapsing with the revelation, overwhelmed by the betrayal. Initially, Marion reporting Patrick, is an act done in a moment of intense emotion, one that brings the end of Patrick and Tom’s relationship, but in the scenes set in the 1990s, it’s obvious that it affects more than just that.
Marion and Tom’s relationship is based off a lie, Tom having married her ‘for protection,’ to be able to avoid judgment and speculation whilst he continued his relationship with Patrick, and throughout the scenes that are set later in their lives, it’s obvious that they only stayed together after Patrick’s arrest and Tom’s inevitable confession that he was involved with Patrick because it was easier. Marion believed that once Patrick was out of the picture, she would finally be able to live her fantasy marriage with Tom that she always believed that she would have him and ‘fix him’, but it seems that Tom never really got over Patrick.
V. Tom and Patrick’s last meeting, 1990s
In one of the final shots of the movie Tom finally walks into Patrick’s room, where he is sitting in his wheelchair staring out the window. Marion has left, and Tom believes that he has nobody now, especially after so adamantly refusing to interact with the man once he moved in with Tom and Marion. When Tom moves closer and places a hand on Patrick’s shoulder, he doesn’t react, stoic and silent as he seems to be in a permanent state of after his stroke, but with just one finger that Tom softly caresses Patrick’s face with, he realizes exactly who it is. The touch mirrors their first, back in the sitting room of Patrick’s home, drunk and laughing and listening to music, where Tom slips his finger down Patrick’s neck and under the collar of his shirt. The initial moment is important; highlighted by the score dropping out and the close up shots of Patrick and Tom, and to recreate the likeness of this moment is to bring it back to invoke a strong emotion.
This is the first time that Patrick and Tom are touching in the last 40 years, so when they finally reunite, it’s almost like the feeling of coming home, allowing this person back into your heart after believing that you will never see them again. The scene is made even more heartbreaking by Linus Roache (who plays the older Tom) being swapped out for Harry Styles (who plays the younger Tom), who leans down to press a kiss to Patrick’s head, showing the reconnect of these two star-crossed lovers regardless of the time that has passed. It pulls on your heartstrings to see a young Tom still hold that love and affection for a much older Patrick and My Policeman ending the movie with this scene was the right choice because it was done beautifully.
Whilst this movie stirs up a lot of emotions and heartbreak for the characters, it’s important to remember that the movie has the underlying message of educating. Learning what happened back then is important, before the civil rights movements, before Stonewall, before it was legal to be gay and love whoever you love. This story is not only about the love between these characters, but also the wasted time, the message that it’s never too late to find your happiness or the one for you.
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