Also huge, for his many fans: the brand new Styles starring in a movie. (Or, did you miss the circus surrounding his appearance in “Don’t Worry Darling”?)
But “huge” isn’t the word to describe Styles’ performance in “My Policeman,” a deliberately paced and melancholy period piece about love, loss, pain, prejudice, and the danger of living by inauthentic way. Biggest challenge for Styles and for the studio that ranks him among a set of six actors – although at the top of the list, they’re not stupid! – is to cut the confident magnetism of the pop star, in the service of history. That’s what he does. Sometimes, however, it seems like he’s pressing that mute button too hard, erasing his portrait’s personality.
To be fair, a lot of that may have come from the choices of director Michael Grandage and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, which shape Styles’ character, Tom, a working-class policeman who hides his same-sex relationship in a heterosexual marriage, like a web. virgin on which others project their desires. There have been criticisms that Styles gives an underdeveloped performance, but that ignores the fact that his very character IS underdeveloped, and maybe that’s the point. How can we know him if he does not know himself?
Still, it’s a stark contrast to a heavily drawn portrayal like that of David Dawson as Patrick, Tom’s lover. Or that of Rupert Everett, who embodies older Patrick without the benefit of language, the day after a serious stroke.
“My Policeman” opens Friday in theaters and premieres Nov. 4 on Prime Video. The film is based on the novel by Bethan Roberts, who described being inspired by the life of famous British novelist EM Forster and his love triangle with a London police officer and the officer’s wife, who became a good friend . From there, Roberts fashioned a 1950s-based story about a similar trio but with a devastating and terrible twist – but based on the same shocking historical reality: It was a crime for men to have sex. between them in England until 1967 – and even later in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
We start in the 1990s (the film will oscillate between two eras 40 years apart, a choice that weakens the momentum) with Marion (Gina McKee), inviting older Patrick to recover at her home on the picturesque coast of Brighton rather than a depressing nursing home. Her husband, Tom (Linus Roache) is furious that she welcomed this man into their home, although we don’t know why at this time. Tom orders her to fire Patrick, but she refuses.
Now we’re back to the 1950s, with soft-spoken but devilishly handsome young Tom (Styles) wooing charming Marion (Emma Corrin, a memorable Princess Diana in “The Crown” and aptly cast here) teaching her how to to swim. It is a chaste court. One day, Tom invites Marion, an art-loving schoolteacher, on a private gallery tour, courtesy of a curator he met while on tour. This young conservative is called Patrick, and he is everything that Tom is not: intellectual, worldly, very cultured.
But Marion remains attracted to Tom. And one night, Tom pops the question – seemingly out of the blue, because they’ve barely touched. Patrick toasts them at their wedding. He even shows up on the honeymoon to prepare a fancy dinner. All is well until Tom unnervingly explodes against Patrick at the dining table; it’s not the most compelling moment for either Styles or the script.
In any case, all this is Marion’s memory of their frequentation. There is another version. It’s the one that older Marion reads in Patrick’s journals, in a box of her belongings. We then return to the same scenes from Patrick’s perspective, to see that throughout, Tom was having a passionate affair with Patrick – a passion that Marion and Tom never achieved.
While the sex scenes between Tom and Patrick are the ones that generate all the heat, his marriage to Marion is not without love. They have a real union, and Tom tries, for better or worse, to have both Marion and Patrick – only partly because his same-sex relationship must be kept secret or they could both end up in jail.
Tragedy soon strikes, and it is painful not only to see what happens to the relationship between the three, but also to remember the terrible way gay people were treated in Britain just 50 years ago.
It is, finally, Everett’s face, lined with grief, that haunts the final tableau, a few convincing seconds that put an end to a few sad hours and give us, perhaps, a slight glimmer of hope in the capacity human to heal.
As for Styles and his movie star prospects? Give it time. After just two major roles, the jury is still out.
“My Policeman”, a Prime Video release, was rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for its sexual content”. Duration: 113 minutes. Two and a half out of four stars.