My Policeman immediately begins playing with points of view when it turns to their younger selves, first seen from Marion’s (Emma Corrin) perspective. She is a schoolteacher who falls for Tom (Styles), a policeman eager to broaden his cultural horizons. Together they form a friendship with Patrick (David Dawson), an aesthete who is a curator at the Brighton Museum of Art, forced by the era to hide his life as a gay man. As the triangle develops, Corrin beautifully establishes Marion’s innocence, and then reveals it fading away.
When another flashback gives us Patrick’s perspective, we see that even while Tom is courting Marion in gentlemanly ’50s fashion, he is beginning his affair with Patrick, an especially fraught move for a policeman at a time when homosexuality was illegal. When Tom makes the first move, grazing his finger along Patrick’s neck, he seems startled and confused by his own gesture. Styles plays that initial confusion well, without any winks at the camera to evoke his off-screen persona. The sexual hesitation doesn’t last long, although the deception all around does. The story soon revolves around questions of who knew what and when. How long is Marion truly, or maybe wilfully, blind?
The camera stays discreetly on Styles’ face through that first sex scene. And a later scene between the men in bed is composed of graceful images of entwined bodies occasionally reflected in a mirror, the nudity never full-on or frontal. This is movie sex, not raw, messy real-life sex, and anyone wanting something more visceral really wants a different film.
The deepest flaw in My Policeman is that we grasp too little of the characters’ inner lives. When Tom proposes to Marion in the apartment he has borrowed from Patrick, you have to wonder: what is he thinking? That’s not a rhetorical question. What is he actually thinking? The screenplay by Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia), based on Bethan Roberts’ novel, could have explored much more from his perspective, young and older. Despite that, Styles evokes Tom’s genuine, if selfish and callous, need to keep both his life with Marion and his lover. Roache is totally in sync as the older Tom, still charismatic and handsome, with an anger that suggests he remains in denial. McKee vividly shows Marion grappling with her memories. There is a long-buried betrayal and a guilty admission that are easy to see coming, but the plot is not the point, even when the period’s homophobic laws come into play. The film works best at capturing the pain and occasional joy of the triangular arrangement.
Grandage is still best known as a theatre director. His first film, Genius (2016), with Jude Law as the writer Tom Wolfe and Colin Firth as his editor, Maxwell Perkins, is also quiet and understated, which may be why it is underappreciated. My Policeman almost invites a similar fate. Unlike Style’s off-screen persona, it is the opposite of explosive, but it is true to its director’s eloquent vision.
My Policeman opens in cinemas in the US and UK on 21 October, and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime from 4 November.
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