Released: 4th November
Seen: 5th November
In 1952, Alan Turing began a relationship with a man named Arnold Murray who he met outside a cinema. On the 23rd of January, an acquaintance of Murray’s broke into Turing’s home and performed a burglary, a crime that Turing naturally reported to the police. However, during the course of that investigation, the relationship between Murray and Turing (which was notably sexual in nature) came to light and soon both Murray and Turing were arrested as acts of homosexual sex violated laws surrounding Gross Indecency.
Turing was convinced to plead guilty and was given a choice between imprisonment (which at the time could’ve been up to 2 years… as a gay man in a 1950s British prison, that would not have ended well) or probation. That probation came with one extra little condition… Alan Turing would be chemically castrated in order to reduce his libido, effectively removing all sexual desires and thus eliminating his homosexual urges. Alan Turing, who I would also point out was a literal war hero, would be found dead by suicide 2 years later. Now, why do I tell this story? Because My Policeman takes place in 1957, 5 years after this event made national news and it’s important to know that in order for the actual power of this film to take effect… and because I figure this is the best chance to remind people that gay rights haven’t exactly been around long.
My Policeman, adapted from the 2012 book of the same name, takes place largely in 1957 where a young museum worker named Patrick (David Dawson) is just trying to get by day to day when he meets a young and rather attractive policeman named Tom (Harry Styles). The two hit it off very well, firstly as friends and soon beginning a secret relationship that provides them with plenty of fulfilment… except the problem arises as Tom cannot really keep his job as a police officer in the 50s as a bachelor, that sets off alarm bells and causes people to think he might not be straight.
To put a stop to these rumours, Tom begins his own relationship with a young school teacher, Marion (Emma Corrin). For a while, things seem to be going along OK, the two relationships are kept apart enough that Marion doesn’t even know about Tom & Patrick and for a while, everyone is happy… until the inevitable relationship problems start popping up and Tom and Patrick’s safety becomes a concern should someone else report either of them. Oh, also there are intermittent flash-forwards to modern-day times where an older Marion (Gina Mckee) and an older Tom (Linus Roache) take in an older Patrick (Rupert Everett) who has recently had a stroke.
My Policeman is very standard in your period gay dramas, in that the only real conflict is the outside world might put both parties in prison for the act of their love and to this movie’s credit, it hammers that idea home repeatedly as much as is possible. It makes very clear by showing cops going into alleys to arrest men about to hook up or through how scared our two main characters are to hold hands even on an empty beach with no one around, it’s a constant threat that only seems to go away when Patrick and Tom go to Venice for possibly the sweetest sequence in the film. The actual real-world consequences, which both characters would know about in a post-Turing world, are very clearly laid out and create most of the dramatic tension… which is fortunate because, beyond that knowledge, there just isn’t much here.
A large part of the problem with My Policeman is that time jumping, the repeated flash-forwards to see our three leads living together adds nothing to the proceedings. The film is not in any way improved by their inclusion, it just slows down whatever momentum the film is able to create (and it doesn’t often get much momentum to begin with) and leads to an unearned happyish ending. It stands out as padding, pushing this film to the seemingly standard 2-hour runtime when it doesn’t need it at all.
The story is not improved, the performances by the three older actors are fine (though god damn, they relegate one of the two openly LGBTQ performers in this film, Rupert Everett, to mumbling sounds that aren’t quite words for his entire appearance) but if you cut their scenes out you lose nothing. At best you get a dramatic reveal of information but it’s information that’s so obvious that you probably can work out what it is based on the vague plot description above, that’s how useless this set of sequences is.
My Policeman works a little better when it’s the younger actors playing it but again, it’s not great. Harry Styles is certainly a presence in the film, he has an air about him that does kind of make it clear why someone would risk everything to be with him but to be blunt, Harry isn’t a great actor or even that good a one. He’s undoubtedly got a presence to him that worked in his brief turn in Dunkirk and for a quick cameo in Eternals but when he has to be the emotional core of a film it’s just not going to work. Credit to him where it is due though, a celebrity of his status playing gay in a film is a pretty big deal and he doesn’t really shy away from any of it, he clearly put everything into it but he also clearly needs a lot more help from directors to pull out a great performance.
Speaking of great performances, the closest we might get to one is David Dawson AKA young Patrick. He actually makes a lot of the movie work on some level, able to dance upon that delicate line between a 1950’s upperclassman and a desperate man with a secret romance. There’s a certain look of unrequited love that he constantly has in his eyes and when the film requires an actual dramatic moment, chances are good it comes from this specific character. He is, after all, the one who goes through the most and actually has to deal with the consequences of what happens here.
Oh, and Marion is also a character… not really, she’s there because the film needs a beard for one of the characters and sadly neither actress who plays her has anything to do.
What My Policeman feels like is someone attempting to do a spin on Brokeback Mountain, the similarities are substantial. A secret romance between two men who can’t come out due to societal pressures, one or both of them with a wife who is at risk of finding out, dramatic consequences for their love, the only time they can be in any way free is when they’re so far from home that no one notices them. It’s all there, just change cowboys in 60s America for a policeman and a museum worker in 50s England and it’s a very similar story, except Brokeback is just generally better on every level while My Policeman has glimmers of hope sprinkled amongst a sea of mundanity.
Mundane might be the best way to really describe My Policeman, there is very little that goes above good and certainly very few moments that stand out as exceptional. It has its moments of sweetness, in particular the Venice sequence, but those are few and far between and considering the time period it’s set in means the audience is constantly worrying what’ll happen to these two men, it’s hard to keep that feeling going. Most of the time, the main feeling is boredom which goes on for much longer than it needs to,
My Policeman certainly has good intentions and a strong narrative worth telling, but it hurts itself by trying to do too much with the timeline and a set of performances that just aren’t anything beyond good. That combined with an intentionally slow pace makes for a film that’s just kind of lifeless most of the time, with nothing truly memorable beyond the impressive commitment of one of the biggest stars on the planet being willing to perform in a film where he has to be intimate with another man (a thing that is still kind of a big deal in itself). Other than that, there’s not much about My Policeman that’s worth your time unless you’re a massive Harry Styles fan but that’s just not enough to make this film anything other than kind of OK.