Harry Styles' performance in the upcoming movie "My Policeman" deserves a speeding ticket if the recent farce surrounding "Don't Worry Darling," with the film's circus sideshow of a press tour and harsh reviews, could be read as a traffic warning to Harry Styles on his way to movie stardom.
Although the British pop singer who just transitioned to acting was effective if miscast in "Darling," the 28-year-old is obviously out of his element in this drab awards vehicle. Styles struggles to portray much of the character's internalised misery as Tom, a closeted gay cop struggling with his sexuality in 1950s England, as he delivers clunky line readings and strained outbursts.
The 2012 novel "My Policeman," which screenwriter Ron Nyswaner sluggishly and predictably adapted, was written by Bethan Roberts. If someone had the kind of transcendent screen presence that occasionally rescues a stodgy period piece from the depths of convention, "My Policeman" might have been saved. Instead, Styles' lacklustre performance deals the film's uninspired portrayal of mid-century homophobia, forbidden love, and long-simmering bitterness the film's fatal blow.
That's a shame for David Dawson, who portrays Patrick, Tom's covert lover, with the desire and agony appropriate for a man hiding his actual identity at a period when homosexuality was still against the law. Patrick, a museum curator and opera enthusiast, contrasts with Tom, a simple-minded moralist torn between his sexual inclinations and his backward-looking social ideals. To be fair to Styles, perhaps his halting delivery is intended to highlight the differences between the two personalities. Whether it was intended or not, the suggestion is weak.
The thankless part of Marion, Tom's doe-eyed fiancée who realises too late that she — not Patrick — is the third wheel in that triangle of pals, is played by Emma Corrin, who was magnificent as Diana Spencer in Season 4 of "The Crown." When her choice to take in Patrick (Rupert Everett), who is in a wheelchair and has mostly lost his speech due to a stroke, reopens old scars, an older Marion (Gina McKee) and an older Tom (Linus Roache) are seen to be still married in a clumsily constructed, 1990s-set framing device.
The meaning of the movie is made clear by the younger Patrick's observation that "all love stories are terrible, aren't they?" Sure enough, the fatal affair plays out as expected as "My Policeman" awkwardly jumps between the 1950s and the 1990s, interspersed with connective scenes of Tom hopelessly gazing into the sea or Marion reading Patrick's diary. Even while the abrupt transition in time allude to deeper ideas, such as the bittersweet nature of societal reform that comes too late, the absence of the intervening decades leaves a huge gap. In a similarly egregious error, "My Policeman" hardly mentions the fact that Tom, as a law enforcement official, is responsible for upholding the same savage rule that his love for Patrick breaks.
The fact that filmmaker Michael Grandage, a theatre veteran who is directing only his second movie following 2016's "Genius," lacks an audacious enough vision to detract from the undeveloped characters, doesn't help. He creates a striking visual contrast between the 1950s tale and the grayer, gustier look of the 1990s storyline. (Pictures of the older Tom strolling along the concrete sea wall with the waves smashing are very remarkable.) Grandage constructs Tom and Patrick's love scenes with delicate sensitivity, drawing on Steven Price's opulent score. However, his methodical direction reveals the script's reliance on love-triangle clichés and overused "gay romance" cliches.
When the 1950s plot comes to an end, "My Policeman" aims to facilitate the older versions of these characters experiencing catharsis through tears. What are the emotional repercussions of a long-term relationship founded on a lie? is the pressing question at hand. But the story leaves out a decade-long pause, leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps.
Ignore the bad casting. The main offence committed by "My Policeman" is its inconsistent narrative.