One of TIFF’s most anticipated premieres, My Policeman is a perhaps too by-the-numbers adaptation. What could have been an insightful look at living in a web of lies and deception in 1950s Britain turns out to be a safe, unevenly paced yet still entertaining picture.
Surely to find success when it hits Amazon Prime in the coming weeks, the film will surely have its supporters, but one cannot shake the feeling that a much greater, bolder, and exciting film could have been told. The problem seems to be in the film’s energy, or lack thereof. Scenes and happenings take place almost on autopilot, with no spark or bold artistic choices that could have lifted the film above conventional tropes. It is not the fault of the performances, solid across the board, as much as it is a common pitfall of the screenplay and the direction.
Despite the uneven pace, and lacking depth of the screenplay save for a few scenes that feel like they belong to a much more interesting movie, the film still manages to entertain and engage. As straightforward as the story is, the film seems to want to be both mainstream and an awards vehicle, something that will not be achieved mostly because of its limited ambition and scope. Perhaps the best way to assess My Policeman is to look at the emotional punch it packs, and on that front, it somewhat succeeds in making us invested in the characters; except that the slow pacing, drab dialogue, and predictable proceedings (even for those who are unfamiliar with the original source material) all work to reduce any desired impact.
Tom (Harry Styles) is a young police officer in 1950s Britain. The story kicks off with his encounter with Marion (an underused Emma Corrin) as they quickly fall in love despite the lack of any mutual interests. Their relationship develops perhaps too quickly and is, frankly, forgettable. But things start to take a more interesting turn with the arrival of Patrick (an excellent David Dawson), a respected museum curator. The three become friends before the film takes a step back and shows us how Tom and Patrick had initially met.
It turns out that Patrick, a closeted homosexual, serves a much more important role in Tom’s life than simply being a friend with connections – he invites him to explore his sexual identity, and in some ways, leads him to a sexual awakening of sorts. Meanwhile, both men conceal their true relationship and sugarcoat it as mere friendship to avoid the hefty complications that could come with coming out at a time when the price to pay was imprisonment, shame, and losing one’s career.
The film’s best portions come afterwards – when Tom decides to marry Marion, in hopes of forming a family. It is then that true conflict arises, both within Tom himself and with his secret lover; as well as with Marion who gradually starts to discover the lies and deception their life together was based on.
The film cuts back and forth between the youthful Tom, Marion, and Patrick and their older selves decades later, as we get to put the pieces together and try to understand what happened between Tom and Patrick’s once-intense love affair. Early on the film shows us that the men are no longer even speaking to one another; a point that’s meant to intrigue viewers as they witness the rise and fall of their love for one another.
My Policeman attempts to make things meaningful but rarely comes alive. Perfectly watchable and not without its merits (Maria Djurkovic’s production design and Annie Symons’s costume design for instance are both fantastic and serve the story well), the film ends up being somewhat forgettable because it couldn’t rise above conventional tropes and formulaic storytelling. A serviceable yet lacking effort that leaves much to be desired.
This review is from the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. A24 will release The Inspection in theaters on October 21 and streaming on Prime Video November 4.