Harry Styles as an actor (so far, at least) is the type where you want to give him the benefit of the doubt, because (bless his heart) he’s a cutie and is taking on interesting roles. Unlike the gossip-soaked Don’t Worry Darling (that came to theaters with a whole lot of baggage but wasn’t a complete train wreck of a film), My Policeman feels like a much more traditional story of repressed desires and terrible decisions, the somber sort of drama that the Brits do so well.
Toggling back and forth between the “present” (1990s-ish) and the past (1950s), My Policeman swirls around a trio of young lovers. The problem is that the cute policeman of the title, Tom (Harry Styles) is in the middle, with one side of the triangle left in the dark. Tom is a fresh-faced new police officer, who catches the eye of sweet young schoolteacher Marion (Emma Corrin, from The Crown). As they begin courting-cute (he teaches her how to swim, she wants to show him some culture), Tom introduces Marion to Patrick (David Dawson), an art curator that he supposedly “just met” at a crime scene, who offers them a tour of his museum. The three get along swimmingly; Marion is charmed by Patrick’s worldliness (she seems to have more in common with him than her beau), Tom seems happy to have a man-friend that isn’t a threat to his girl, and Patrick seems to be delighted to be wedged between them.
Flash-forward to the 90s, and long-married Tom (Linus Roache) and Marion (Gina McKee) are glum and full of ennui in the cinematic way that coastal Brits always seem to be. Marion, much to Tom’s protest, has invited their long-estranged old chum Patrick (Rupert Everett), now basically an invalid after a stroke, to come and live with them. Patrick needs constant care, and–unable to speak coherently–can only glare. Marion takes on the intimate caretaker role, while Tom literally and emotionally keeps as far away as he can.
The reason behind the collapse of their relationship soon becomes clear. Marion finds, then reads Patrick’s diaries from back in the day. It may not be a shock to anyone (not even viewers) that Tom and Patrick were lovers, but it is a surprise to Marion to find out that their affair began long before she realized. When we see her, in flashback, putting the pieces together as a young newlywed, you just know that things were going to end very badly.
My Policeman feels like a traditional melodrama of closeted love that is destroyed by external circumstances. The choices the characters make, and the things they say to each other are truly awful–but in the 1950s, things were very very different. Stories of regret are always heartbreaking to watch, but at the same time, history can’t be rewritten for those times where being outed could destroy a career and land a person in prison.
Harry Styles, with his open, youthful handsomeness, is quite sweet and charming as optimistic Tom. He may struggle a bit as an actor when things get tough for the character, but by no means does he embarrass himself. Emma Corrin gets a mostly reactive role, and David Dawson pretty much does the heavy lifting of the younger actors, as a gay man who knows exactly the risks he is taking.
The elder actors mostly get to be sullen, but gosh it is nice to see them all, especially the lovely Gina McKee. When she steps up to take care of Patrick, there are several movingly intimate and raw moments, where she radiates forgiveness and apologies in the simple actions of her care. McKee, Everett, and Roache are quite moving as the characters tried to bring closure and healing to the damage they caused each other. The moments that shine are the quietest, giving the film a sort of bleak optimism after a lifetime of regret.