- Directed by Michael Grandage
- Written by Ron Nyswaner, based on the novel by Bethan Roberts
- Starring Harry Styles, Emma Corrin and David Dawson
- Classification R; 113 minutes
- Streaming on Prime Video starting Nov. 4
“All love stories are tragic, aren’t they?” When twentysomething museum curator Patrick (David Dawson) says this line early in the new drama My Policeman, the closeted gay man, who strikes an unusual relationship with schoolteacher Marion (Emma Corrin) and her copper husband Tom (Harry Styles) in 1950s Brighton, is referring to Anna Karenina. But in director Michael Grandage’s dreadfully heavy-handed adaptation of Bethan Roberts’s novel, the words cannot help but poke the film’s own audience in the ribs, nudging them to acknowledge the tragedy unfolding directly in front of them. But Tolstoy, this ain’t.
Flitting between the 1950s and several decades later – where the unhappily married Tom and Marion take in a stroke-addled Patrick – My Policeman follows the frustrations of characters who are either the authors of their own misfortunes or helpless victims of societal prejudices, or perhaps it is both. There are enough secrets, lies and tepidly chaste sex scenes – both of the straight and same-sex variety – to fill a hundred kitchen sinks. But the resulting drama is all drips and drops, no deluge.
Indeed, while Roberts’s 2012 novel is well-regarded as tender and sincere, My Policeman the film seems to exist primarily to sell the notion of Harry Styles, sexually slippery movie star, onto a reluctant public. While the musician fared well enough in a small part in Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk – and seemed slick enough in his three-second cameo at the end of Marvel’s Eternals last year – larger on-screen responsibilities seem to weigh his sparkly pop-star charisma back down to Earth.
Just as he was left grasping for gravitas in September’s high-concept thriller Don’t Worry Darling, Styles seems adrift and frustrated by his duties in My Policeman, never quite sure of or confident in his acting abilities. Perhaps a stronger director could have tethered Styles to the bubbling frustrations and dashed dreams of Tom, but Styles seems perpetually kept at a distant, frustrating remove from his character.
Regrettably, Styles is just one of several casting errors in My Policeman. In the flash-forward scenes, Tom is played by Linus Roache and Patrick by Rupert Everett – even though the profiles and physicality of the older actors suggest a reversal is in order. The casting is by no means a fatal error – Roache does annoyingly prickly better than almost any actor today – but the ill-informed move provides just that much more evidence to indict Grandage on charges of cinematic malpractice. (Don’t get me started on how the entire ensemble received the 2022 TIFF Tribute Award for Performance at this past September’s film festival, an “honour” that only highlighted the head-shaking public-relations politics afflicting both the movie and the fest itself.)
Even as the film limps toward its own version of a happy ending, it is clear that Grandage has no real grip on his own adaptation. Keep that next, inevitable remake of Anna Karenina far away from his hands.