Nov 28, 2022
By Greg Hyde
Brighton, a small city on England’s southern coast, has had a considerable LGBTQIA+ population for a long time now, as far back as the 19th century, but for much of that time, members of this community have had to keep their activities and identities secret from the authorities. In his second film, My Policeman, veteran theatre director Michael Grandage explores what life was like for LGBTQIA+ members of the city’s ‘authorities’ during a time when non-cis, non-hetero identities and relationships had to be kept secret.
The film begins in Peacehaven, a small town near Brighton, in 1999. Married, sexagenarian retirees Marion Taylor (Gina McKee) and Tom Burgess (Linus Roache) are looking after their old friend Patrick Hazlewood (Rupert Everett), who has suffered a severe and semi-immobilizing stroke. Marion has instigated this arrangement, whilst Tom is a begrudging participant in it. As Marion discovers an old journal of hers from 1957, the film flashes back to that period, telling the story of her and Tom’s meeting and ostensible falling in love.
Following a meeting on Brighton beach during which he professes a desire for her to educate him in the fields of literature and art history, and knowing her love of theatre and the arts, twentysomething policeman Tom (Harry Styles) introduces schoolteacher Marion (Emma Corrin) to his museum curator friend Patrick (David Dawson), whose artistic connections enable him to obtain theatre and opera tickets for the three of them, who soon become firm friends. However, a flashback within a flashback reveals that Patrick and Tom are secretly in love with each other, unbeknownst to Marion, and Tom is only giving off the appearance of having fallen in love with and wanting to marry her so that he can continue his clandestine trysts with Patrick whilst appearing not to lead what was then a socially unacceptable lifestyle to mainstream society.
My Policeman is an objectively well-made film documenting a secret situation that must have been far more common in the 1950s and 1960s than modern-day viewers are capable of knowing. Indeed, the book by Bethan Roberts upon which it is based was itself apparently based upon a real-life gay relationship the writer EM Forster had with a policeman. Cinematographer Ben Davis’ counter-intuitive lensing of 1999 to make it look far greyer and drabber than 1957 effectively conveys how the three main characters’ lives have become more miserable in old age, production designer Maria Djurkovic’s recreation of 1950s Brighton’s stucco architecture looks gorgeous, and Grandage’s use of the sex scenes to convey how much more passionately Tom feels about Patrick than he does about Marion has the desired effect.
This sort of formalism, though, however well-conceptualized it may be, prevents My Policeman from transforming itself from a worthy film into a gripping and memorable one. Both the settings and the actors’ valiantly attempted performances feel stagey, perhaps as a result of Grandage’s background as a theatre director. One can see the points about the unfairness of having to live a double life that he is trying to make with the film, the three main characters being presented sympathetically helps for this to be the case, and only a bigot would leave the cinema disagreeing with the film’s central indictment of 1950s England’s closed-mindedness. Sadly, none of these storytelling elements are able to stop My Policeman feeling quite underwhelming and uncinematic as a film.
Author rating: 6/10
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