For Michael Grandage’s My Policeman, scoring Harry Styles in the lead role must have seemed like a slam dunk. Here is a British film, relatively small in both scope and ambition, suddenly lifted into free-marketing prominence by the presence of one of the world’s biggest stars. Yet, despite being pretty genuinely awful in the film, Styles, unexpectedly, does not become the failure that My Policeman revolves around, regardless of the gravitational pull of his celebrity. This adaptation of Bethan Roberts’s novel is a misfire on every level, drowned by almost uniformly poor performances and sloppy filmmaking.
Hopping back and forth between the late ‘50s and the late ‘90s, My Policeman follows a bitter love triangle involving dashing cop Tom (Styles in the past, Linus Roache in the present), his naïve schoolteacher wife Marion (Emma Corrin to Gina McKee), and his secret gay lover, the intellectually-driven Patrick (David Dawson to Rupert Everett). After Patrick has a stroke in the ‘90s, Marion brings him in to her and Tom’s home to recoup, which brings back painful memories for all three of them of Tom and Patrick’s illegal affair in the ‘50s, one that poisoned Tom and Marion’s marriage and inevitably ended in tragedy.
Grandage cuts between the two time periods with absolutely no regard for keeping up the film’s pace and, as such, My Policeman can never build up a comfortable rhythm. Every flash back or forward kills the story dead, forcing it to clunkingly get back into gear before the next change undoes whatever meagre gains have been made. It’s easily one of the worst-edited films of the year, managing to avoid being boring by simply being incoherent.
Then again, it would be hard to put this story together in a satisfying way with such a dismal script to work from. Almost none of writer Ron Nyswaner’s dialogue sounds like a real person might actually say it, building to a truly cretinous ending that resolves a messy plot far too cleanly while making no emotional or moral sense. It’s a morass that any actor would struggle to pull themselves out of, but My Policeman’s cast is often somehow even worse than the material they’re given.
As he was with Don’t Worry Darling, Styles has been the main target of criticism for My Policeman and, though it is true that he’s terrible here – always doing either too much or too little and unable to hide behind glamorous genre trappings as he could in DWD – most of the cast are just as bad. Corrin, in particular, is atrocious, while McKee could hardly look less interested if she tried. Everett, meanwhile, is completely defeated by the physical reality of his role, reduced to moans and whimpers. Roache and, in particular, Dawson get out with a bit more dignity intact, but you really don’t want to spend much time with any of these characters.
When Grandage is focusing exclusively on the sensual moments (despite Styles’s odd press-tour comments, the sex scenes here are explicit and given a sense of fun), he’s on steadier ground; a soft touch here, a memory of a beer on the beach there. It’s just that whenever a person speaks in My Policeman, the illusion is instantly and irrevocably shattered until you’re simply waiting out the clock to leave behind this ill-conceived world.