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MOVIES: My Policeman - Review

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Michael Grandage's British period drama exploring the hidden homosexuality of a policeman clashing with the backwards ideals of 1950s England is the second Harry Styles vehicle this autumn on the back of Don't Worry Darling - and is the second film that makes the mistake of pairing a relative rookie up against some of the best actors of their generation - this time it's Emma Corrin and David Dawson, who both run rings around Styles who fumbles lines awkwardly and can't really develop consistent convincing chemistry with either Corrin or Dawson, and considering he's romantically involved with both in the film it feels a little flat and ham-fisted - rendering the whole film at fault because you don't buy the emotional spark.

The naivety that Styles' brutish policeman embraces the art world is something to be admired - he falls asleep at the opera, burps at his drink and pretends to love art, but is he using that as an excuse to get closer to Corrin's school teacher, Marion Taylor, or Dawson's Museum curator, Patrick Hazelwood? It's clear that Tom Burgess has affection for both - but given the laws in Britain at the time he's expected to have a wife - not many bachelors advance through the ranks of the police force, he's told. Split 40 years into the present we see how society has evolved, and Tom breaks down watching a young couple in love from outside of his car, not being able to share the same experience in his youth.

It's a shameful chapter of British history that Michael Grandage brings to light in a way that's absolutely vital, but it's told without the spark of say, something like My Beautiful Laundrette or the works of Basil Dearden. The whole thing feels like a very ITV-level surface drama complete with its tendencies to delve too much into melodrama which almost lead to the whole thing coming apart at the seams - not helped by the fact that Styles can't convincingly act - which means that given his character is such a central figure it just doesn't work. He may be one of the best pop singers currently working but 2022 has not been a great year for his acting showcase, you can see why Christopher Nolan barely had him speak for most of Dunkirk and kept his role to a faceless soldier. Casting him again in a period drama could've worked - and he does capture that naivety reasonably well, but it just comes across as inexperienced acting opposite Corrin and Dawson - and Linus Roache, playing his older counterpart in the present day brings so much more depth to the character with fewer words. Had he been placed in an actual ITV level drama Styles may have found himself better placed to gain some experience, but it's like learning to swim by jumping in at the deep end.

The way the film focuses on the often closed off world of art is fascinating as it explores the depth of critical thinking at a beginners level "how does it make you feel?" is a question asked - and My Policeman delivers in that sense as we're shown how to connect with art in a beautiful, touching way - the paintings being the highlight of the film itself put it alongside dramas like Ammonite - rich in period context but ultimately dour. Its tours of art galleries, Venice and the romantic British countryside act as a showcase for ideal holiday destinations - even the same small neighbourhood used in 2018's Hope Gap is repurposed here. Corrin's performance as a school teacher in reckoning with the era casts her as a role filled with guilt and mixed emotions which she portrays convincingly, and is a real star. It's just a shame My Policeman never quite rises to match the talents of her or Dawson, instead playing it safe.

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