My Policeman: Movie Review


Lulu McDonald, Contributing Writer

Director Michael Grandage’s My Policeman tells a heartbreakingly beautiful story of queerness, pain, and the fragility of love. Set in 1950s Britain with flash-forwards to the 1990s, it tells the story of Tom, a gay policeman who falls in love with museum curator Patrick while being in a relationship with Marion, a schoolteacher who has been madly in love with Tom since the day she met him. As the story unfolds, we see their relationships start to break down as the homophobia of the time period and the inevitable complications of the situation take their toll.

The movie is adapted from the 2012 novel of the same name by Bethan Roberts. It is based on the real-life relationship of author E.M. Forster and policeman Bob Buckingham, the latter of whom had a wife, just like Tom. The movie stars Harry Styles as Tom, Emma Corrin as Marion, and David Dawson as Patrick.

The book on its own is agonizing and gorgeous, and the movie brings it to life with painstaking beauty. I went to see My Policeman at the IFC Center with my mom, and it was truly an experience when the entire theater, including both of us, started audibly sobbing at the end of the movie. Although I felt like an empty shell of a person as we left the theater, one thing my mom said as we walked stuck with me: “It’s not a hopeless ending, but it’s so sad because of the lost time.” 

Harry Styles made a similar remark at the Toronto International Film Festival, saying “ultimately, to me, the whole story is about wasted time. And wasted time is the most devastating thing.” There’s one scene (minor spoiler warning) near the end of the movie that particularly reflects this, where older Tom sees a young gay couple kissing and laughing together in public. He goes back to his car and breaks down, crying alone. This idea of wasted time is part of what makes this film so impactful — seeing the pure yet fleeting joy Patrick and Tom experience together, tangled with the underlying fear of being discovered, is absolutely heartbreaking. Once that joy is stripped away, they are merely left with the thought of what could have been.

It was some kind of revelation to see this story being played out on screen. The narrative flourishes on its own in written form, but it’s a whole different experience seeing it in the expressions of real people. And the actors themselves are wonders.

Emma Corrin is incredible as a younger Marion, conveying the woman’s brightness and naivete, as well as her desperation to hold on to her relationship with Tom, even while knowing deep down that he was never truly hers. Further strengthened by Gina McKee’s portrayal of older Marion, we can see the true regret she carries after what she did. These actors reflect something I admired greatly in the book: how all the characters feel like real people, neither good nor evil, simply human, complex and flawed. True to the novel, Marion’s humanity is indisputable; even though we as an audience cannot forgive her, we still understand her motivations. 

David Dawson plays Patrick with an unmatched grace. It’s almost breathtaking the way he carries himself — dignified, yet reserved. Patrick knows who he is, and because of it, knows how he needs to hide himself. I have nothing more than pure admiration for Dawson in this role.

Although many people have criticized Harry Styles’ acting in the past, he is absolutely phenomenal in this movie. It’s true that he didn’t start off as an actorisn’t an actor at heart, and there are certainly moments that feel slightly forced, but overall, Styles’ love for this project and his devotion to the character shine through the weak bits. He perfectly embodies Tom’s effortless charm and youthfulness, while keeping his footing during the intense scenes. Tom’s emotional turmoil is so raw and acted in such an honest and heartbreaking way. Perhaps it’s indeed Styles’ natural charisma that makes the emotional scenes that much more impactful — seeing a bright young figure having to endure so much is devastating in its own way.

Styles’ performance feels incredibly honest and vulnerable in a way some might not expect. Yet it’s well known among his fans how passionate he is about My Policeman, having gone so far as to approach the director himself about the role with the script already memorized. Later, the film’s producer Robbie Rogers said in an interview, “[Styles] was so passionate about the material, the book, and the script, and I looked at Michael [Grandage] and was like, ‘Oh my god, he’s Tom. This is Tom’.” Now, fans of Styles have often trended #HarryisTom on twitter  in support of the film and his role.

I could write an entire essay unpacking My Policeman. The film is so carefully crafted, lovingly adapted from the novel, and evokes such raw emotion from its characters. Every detail is intentional, from the difference in intimacy between Marion and Tom as opposed to Patrick and Tom, to the parallels between the past and present storylines, to the cinematography of the gut-wrenching final scene.

Some have criticized the movie for being another unnecessary story of queer pain in a time when modern cinema should move on to showing queer joy. While this sentiment is valid and well-intentioned, it’s important to note the historical significance of this movie and the aspect of education. My Policeman has not only the ability to tell a true story of love and pain, it also has the power to educate young queer people as well as a generation of ignorant cishet people about what it was really like to live as a queer person in a time when that was the worst thing one could be. To quote my mom again, “[The movie reminds] us how much stigma and danger there used to be in being gay, but also that there are people who still face that… a world in which they can’t be who they are and be accepted for who they are.” The messages of this movie are timeless, and more important now than ever.

The impact of this movie is already evident. From small things like the emotion felt by audiences, to big things — both David Dawson and Emma Corrin coming out as queer during the making of the movie — the importance of My Policeman is undeniable. Art is empathy. And in our current society, where queer freedom is standing on a precarious political ledge, this kind of art is a powerful, powerful thing.

My Policeman is playing in select theaters and will be available on Prime Video on November 4th.