As the lights went down at the premiere of My Policeman at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the mere mention of the cast coming on stage caused gasps and screams from the audience waiting to just catch a glimpse of Harry Styles.
With all the publicized drama around Styles’ other film on the festival circuit, Olivia Wilde’s Don't Worry Darling, a considerable amount of attention has been put on the musician’s acting ability in recent weeks. So how does he do in My Policeman? The answer could use some explanation.
My Policeman, directed by Michael Grandage, is adapted from the novel by Bethan Roberts. It’s ultimately a love triangle between school teacher Marion, policeman Tom and art curator Patrick. The movie flips back and forth between the 1950s England when the trio formed a friendship, specifically at a time when same-sex relationships were illegal there, and the 1990s where we see how these individuals ended up 40 years later.
“The idea really was to create…three characters played by six actors, and it was an amazing opportunity for all of us to talk in advance of the film about who we are at 20, and who we are 40 years later, and for the film to investigate, properly, memory and time and the way it works,” Grandage explained. “I was attracted to something that really looked and investigated societal change over the huge period.”
A 1990s Marion (Gina McKee) welcomes an ailing friend to the home she shares with husband Tom (Linus Roache), who we eventually find out is Patrick (Rupert Everett) and he has just suffered a stroke, now bound to a wheelchair and can’t speak. Tom isn’t very happy about this arrangement but Marion insists Patrick stays with them. Marion ends up discovering a diary Patrick wrote from the 1950s, which details the relationship that formed between him and Tom, and Marion.
In the 1950s, Marion, now played by Emma Corrin, has a rather instant physical attraction to Tom (Harry Styles). Tom then introduces her to his friend Patrick (David Dawson), but as Tom and Marion’s relationship develops, he’s also having a passionate affair with Patrick. This continues even after Marion and Tom eventually get married, which Tom claims is because bachelors don’t go far in the police force.
'I think wasted time is the most devastating thing'
At a press conference ahead of the film’s TIFF premiere, Harry Styles indicated that it’s the concept of “wasted time” that makes the story particularly devastating.
“I think Tom’s version of acceptance is a pretty depressing one,” Styles said on Sunday. “I think he accepts that he’s going to deny this part of himself for a really long time.”
The reason why the story is devastating is because, ultimately to me, the whole story is about wasted time and I think wasted time is the most devastating thing, because it’s the only thing we can’t control, it’s the one thing we can’t have back.Harry Styles
Ahead of its premiere, Michael Grandage shared a personal story when, as a child someone, “spat the word queer at [him] in the playground.” He explained that he had no idea what the word meant and when he asked his father, he responded by saying it’s “a very nasty word for a homosexual,” with Grandage admitting that at the time he didn’t know what that meant either.
“I can remember, even now standing here in front of all of you today, and at the end of it, and what I now consider to be a supreme piece of parenting, he said ‘a homosexual, son, is a free spirit,’” Grandage recalled to the crowd.
“I was born into the England that is represented at the start of this film,” Grandage said at a press conference on Sunday. “As a gay man, that meant a great deal, obviously, because in the last 60 years we’ve made an incredibly change to what it was like then.”
“Although, for the first time in my life I think that is a little fragile at the moment, and that is part of what drew me to this film.”
'We promised each other that we'd look after each other'
At a Q&A ahead of the TIFF premiere for My Policeman, Harry Styles stressed that he feels “very lucky” to get to work alongside his co-stars David Dawson and Emma Corrin, in particular.
“When you have the opportunity to work with people that you just feel good being around,...having a base of a real friendship, outside of the characters,...the friendship scenes, if you will, it doesn't require much acting,” Styles said.
“Then in the more intense scenes, there's a lot of trust and safety there. All of that kind of benefits, I think, from just a real connection with the people you work with, which I felt very lucky to have during this project.”
— Elisabetta (@Elisabetta_B) September 12, 2022
“Early on, I think we promised each other that we'd look after each other through the process,” Dawson added.
“I hope that it is relatable, I hope that it fills you with joy and also, makes you think, fuels discussions,” Corrin said as the cast and crew of the film accepted their TIFF Tribute Award.
It's fair to say that it's apparent that Styles’ acting doesn’t stack up against his co-stars, Dawson in particular, but his natural charm paired with a sense of innocence that comes through, which may just be reflecting Styles’ limited acting experience, works for moments in the film. It’s really those deeper, more complex emotional scenes where you can really see a disconnect from Styles to the character and the story.
Despite the fandom and debates about Styles’ acting ability, as the crowd walked out of the theatre, you could hear some of the conversations shift (admittedly not for all) from excitement for the musician, to discussions about what the experience of being a gay person in the 1950s must have been like. To Corrin's point from the TIFF Tribute Awards Gala, maybe that's just simply the level of success we should strive for, or maybe it's just about getting people to theatre, even if it's just to gaze at Styles.