My Policeman is an okay gay romance but with tragedy and passion that is lukewarm at best.
Published on November 17, 2022
Rating 2 /5
It might seem too easy to dismiss My Policeman as the British version of Brokeback Mountain. And yet it’s hard to see it as anything more considering the similar structure. Where it perhaps differs is that the taboo relationship is treated with an easier spot-the-homophobe writing style and treats the longing desperation of the oppressed with kid gloves. It’s also just not that passionate for a film that features quite a bit of sex.
Based on the 2012 novel by Bethan Roberts, the film drifts between modern and 1950s England. In the modern day, Tom Burgess (Linus Roache) is finding himself bitter about his wife Marion Taylor (Gina McKee) caring for the ill Patrick Hazlewood (Rupert Everett). It’s soon revealed why through flashbacks. As a younger man, Tom (Harry Styles) was an up-and-coming police officer. Despite being gay, he decides to marry Marion (Emma Corrin) as it is the more societally appropriate thing to do. Yet he can’t hide his feelings for Marion’s astute and attractive Patrick (David Dawson).
The romance is slow and rather mundane for what amounts to a scandalous affair. 1950s England was plagued with an irrational fear of homosexuality that treated all those who favored the same sex like witches, trying to out them as degenerates destroying society. And yet that sense of danger and fear doesn’t feel as big a deal for these characters who are too sensible enough to keep their heads down as low as they can go. Moments of revelation are treated with an almost uncomfortable level of passivity that is rarely addressed.
I enjoyed how Marion is portrayed as someone who is offended by being betrayed yet slowly comes to realize that homosexuality is not as dangerous as the media had led her to believe. It’s unfortunate, however, that has to be communicated by another woman coming out as lesbian, practically spelling out how gay people could be somebody you know and doesn’t change who they are. Coming to terms with being cheated on, however, presents a bit of a problematic era where Marion feels like she’s unwittingly forced into becoming the third wheel of the relationship. It takes her all the way up to old age until she finally brings herself to step back and let a love denied finally flourish, even if it’s in the twilight years for Tom and Patrick.
The somberness and standard dramatic pacing of the story leaves one longing for something more. There’s rarely a moment that feels surprising or bound by an overwhelming sense of passion and longing. There are scenes set up to be just that but they rarely land. Consider a scene where Tom speaks about how he’s going to be marrying Marion. Patrick’s response is to immediately thrust Tom against a wall and engage in what could be their last sexual fling. Yet we know it won’t be as their love can’t stay hidden. Sooner or later, Marion will put two and two together and Tom’s career as a policeman will come into question when his homosexuality is outed.
My Policeman is an okay gay romance but with tragedy and passion that is lukewarm at best. So rarely does the film ever feel like it’s building to something grander with its drama, milling about between stuffy locations with bare-bones confessions of passion and lies between sheets. Sure, there’s a pointed message in how the story wants to look back on how far we’ve come, but that type of tale has become so par for the course, going through the motions more than it should. Much like the older characters that bookend the narrative, this is a movie that looks back on its wasted potential with longing and loss.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.