This compelling, queer-edged melodrama starring Harry Styles and Emma Corrin charts the fall-out of impossible passions.
There’s a modern phenomenon whereby certain a la mode young celebrities have accrued a fanbase of itinerant bobbysoxers who, with their collective power, possess the ability to amplify an opinion that affirms their creed. In short, if you play to the fandom, a wealth of clicks (or, on most occasions, likes and RTs) will be your reward.
With that in mind, it would seem that flinging idle compliments towards best-dressed pop sensation and burgeoning leading man Harry Styles would be good for business. And, it would be easy to praise him for his take on the psychologically complex role of Tom Burgess, a baby-faced Bobby keeping the beat on the sunny Sussex coastline and whose affable nature leads him into a three-way romantic clinch that he is unable to untangle without causing pain to the two people in life he loves most.
Even though the story is being told from the perspective of his dejected wife, Marion, played by Emma Corrin in the 1950s and Gina McKee in the 1990s, it is Tom who sits at the locus of the drama, holding all the cards as to the fate of his two paramours. The third corner of the triangle is made up by Patrick (David Dawson young, Linus Roache old), a man of letters in crushed velvet duds who spirits the wide-eyed but unworldly Tom and Marion into a world of antiquarian delights, musical theatre and high art.
Michael Grandage’s old school romantic melodrama, adapted from a 2012 novel by Bethan Roberts, initially appears as a kind of flighty, Jules et Jim-like menage a trois in which intimate, interpersonal relationships blossom from within this tight little gang whose members seem to be learning a lot from one another. Emotional equality and the equilibrium of platonic friendship soon give way to factionalism and suggestions that two of three may peel off to form a couple. The film playfully wrong-foots the viewer as to who the two end up being.
Within the context of the 1950s, where homosexuality was legally outlawed in the UK, there’s added tragedy to the fact that Tom and Patrick are the two whose bond is the strongest, and their passionate, tactile, dangerous relationship is forced to become a clandestine affair. Marion dutifully assumes her role as the “beard”, helping Tom to maintain a sheen of normalcy in the eyes of friends and colleagues. Patrick, meanwhile, doesn’t have recourse to similar professional cover, and he becomes an easy target for violent persecution.
As the story switches between the two timelines, we are shown how the fun-loving characters of the past evolve into the embittered characters of the future in a way that is both compelling and surprising. McKee is particularly great as a woman who has essentially cashed up her romantic life early in order to shield her friends, while Rupert Everett turns up as present day Patrick, his arrival sparking the narrative touch paper and unlocking sun-dappled memories of impossible love.
Styles does well to saddle the demands of this challenging and multifarious character, but it would perhaps be a little premature to proclaim that this heralds the arrival of a fully-formed talent. There’s an understatement and simple clarity to his line delivery and body language that works well in the context of a man driven by primal desires. In terms of Styles’ future on-screen endeavours, My Policeman perhaps works best as the first significant way station towards the top of a mighty peak.
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Published 12 Sep 2022
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