Harry Styles is having the busiest year of his life. After releasing his third solo studio album, Harry's House, in May, the former One Direction member is on a worldwide tour while promoting two major film releases. And that's in between dodging rumors about spitting on Chris Pine and his dating life with Olivia Wilde.
While many fans and critics have participated in the discourse surrounding Styles' first big-screen release of 2022, Don't Worry Darling, it's the less buzzy My Policeman that may be his most nuanced role yet.
My Policeman is based on the 2012 romance novel by Bethan Roberts. The period piece is based in Brighton, East Sussex, England in the 1950s when same-sex relationships were illegal. The book was inspired by the life of author E.M. Forster, who was in a long-term relationship with a policeman and friends with his lover's wife. As such, the movie follows a married policeman, his wife, and their best friend.
The movie spans 40 years in the lives of those three main characters: Tom, Marion, and Patrick. In order to tell that story the narrative flashes from the past to the present day, unfolding the relationships between policeman Tom (Styles and Linus Roache), art curator Patrick (David Dawson and Rupert Everett) and schoolteacher Marion (Emma Corrin and Gina McKee).
Following its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, critics have been mixed on the performances and overall pacing, but seem to agree on the importance of themes like forbidden romance, wasted time, and repressed feelings.
"There is a personal connection because I was born into the England represented at the start of this film," director Michael Grandage revealed during TIFF. "As a gay man, that meant a great deal. In the last 60 years we've made an incredible change to the law and continued prejudice. Slowly things started to change, things started to move forward and the world we find ourselves in now is very different to the one that's represented in the film in 1957."
Three main characters and six actors were required to fully explore that word. Here, those performers discuss those roles and the key relationship dynamics that comprise the haunting film.
Styles is the top-billed cast member in My Policeman, but Tom is also the character who is most defined by how others see and interpret him. In Tom's younger days he has recently become a policeman and is coming into his own. He meets his sister's friend, Marion, and begins courting her. Unbeknownst to Marion, however, he also begins to see Patrick, whom he met while on the job. Before long, a love triangle emerges.
"Tom is a product of his time," Styles says. "Despite the deceiving nature between the three characters, there is also a very real friendship. Tom's love for Patrick is very real and that's part of why it's so painful. Marion and Patrick are very good friends and there's a very real love there as well. There's so much nuance and complexity … for Tom, fear and shame and all these things you don't necessarily know that much about if you don't encounter other homosexual men at that time. I imagine for Tom, all of his feelings are so foreign."
When viewers meet older Tom, there's a sense of loss and anger to him. He and Marion are still together and have made a life for themselves, however the return of Patrick awakes buried feelings and resentment. Part of that is directed at Marion, part is aimed at himself and at Patrick, and part seems to be towards the society that made him question and hide himself for over four decades.
"Culture evolves, thank God, but we still have a long way to go," Roache says. "Over this huge amount of time there's a little bit of redemption and there's a bit of healing, because there's a future. That's the power of the story. Remember that, however much we grumble about the times we're in, we're actually extremely lucky. It's important to remember that and younger audiences seeing this film will appreciate the history and the journey that many went through to arrive here today."
As a younger woman, Marion develops a crush on Tom and immediately falls for him, all while falling intellectually for Tom's friend Patrick. Patrick and Marion seem to have more in common than she and Tom do, and before long the three develop a fast friendship. There are warning signs, but Marion choses to ignore them all and, eventually, marries Tom.
"She is such a product of her time and the society that she is functioning in," Corrin explains. "What really fascinates me is her youth. I had this sense of her as like that first time you fall in love, and the intensity of feeling that you experience and the fallout from that, that can leave you feeling so hurt and so fearful. She is acting from that place, and that drives her to do some of the things she does."
As the years pass by, Marion seems to be grappling with guilt, which leads her to invite an ailing Patrick to stay with her and Tom following a medical situation. Once Patrick is there, Marion does everything she can to help her former friend, but nothing seems to help her deep and cutting feelings.
"For decades there has been a unity and in some ways an equal measure, a division, because of the actions of their youth and they're indelibly marked by that," McKee says. "That state of inertia and their impeding age forces Marion to be proactive because it's very easy to go through life and before you know it two decades are gone. That is a catalyst. It's very hard to go into older life — and certainly your grave — without at least attempting to address some of the things that need to be said and done."
As a younger, creative man, Patrick is a magnanimous presence to Tom and Marion alike. He may represent forbidden love to Tom, but to Marion he is the creative soul, art lover and fun spirit that adds light and interest to her actual relationship. However under it all, he longs for a relationship with the man he loves, and not being able to openly have it wears him down.
"Even though his life experience has been hard in the past, he's not hard. He's determined to always find the joy and the beauty of life and in people and through music and art and literature," Dawson says.
"The difference between him and Tom is that when he meets Tom, he sees a lot of himself when he was a young man, and somebody who's at the beginning of a journey of self-discovery. He wants to help that be as good and as beautiful and joyous as possible, even if that makes this triangle very complicated," he continues.
When Patrick re-enters Tom and Marion's world as an older man there's a sense that he's been broken and battered in life, and that the world hasn't been very kind to him. He's less whimsical and more bitter, sticking to unhealthy vices and longing to see one person from his past who refuses to see him: Tom. However, he still has hope and that's what Everett wants audiences to walk away with, too.
"These characters might be quite broken by the experience, but with hope," Everett explains. "We are constantly changing. People's historical context has become quite narrow since the virtual world descended on us. So to have a much larger vista is positive and helpful and inspiring for today and onward."
My Policeman opens in theaters on Oct. 21 and begins streaming on Prime Video on Nov. 4.