Review: There are no likable characters in ‘My Policeman.’

“My Policeman” provides a nuanced insight into the lives of homophobic women, misogynistic gay men, and the longstanding animosity between society and the police dating back to the 1950s.


“My Policeman” portrays the love story of two gay men in 1950s Britain. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Ary Russell, Contributing Writer

Spoiler warning: This article includes spoilers for “My Policeman.”

Michael Grandage’s “My Policeman,” based on Bethan Roberts’ novel of the same name, centers around the lives of three lovestruck characters living in 1950s Brighton, England. Grandage’s vulnerable filmmaking gracefully renders the portrait of the forced guard gay men had to assume to survive in the misogynist climate of the time.

The audience is first introduced to an aged Marion (Gina McKee) in 1999, who has a strained relationship with her husband Tom (Linus Roache). The friction is worsened when she brings home his ex-lover, Patrick Hazlewood (Rupert Everett), who has just suffered a stroke. With tension beautifully portrayed by all actors and gloomy cinematography by Ben Davis, the viewer cannot help but wonder what went wrong with these three individuals 42 years ago.

Harry Styles — who portrays a young Tom — renders a compassionate look at a gay man struggling to show his love for fellow police officer Patrick in an aggressively straight work environment. Styles makes Tom an easy character to empathize with, despite the manipulative and hurtful ways he treats his wife Marion, whose younger version is played by Emma Corrin. 

There’s a latent misogyny in Tom’s character shown through both the novel and the film. In a scene when Patrick, Tom and Marion are sharing an intense dinner, Tom expresses his disapproval of working mothers. He also shares how he expects Marion to leave her teaching position when they have a child. Under the weight of conformity, sexual politics get confounded, and everyone gets hurt in the process. 

Of course, Tom’s expectation of motherhood taking precedence over her career could be chalked down to the time period, but there is something far more critical behind Tom’s words. He would have Marion give up her livelihood and be financially dependent on him, knowing he is dishonest and unfaithful. This expectation reveals something about Tom’s supposed feelings’ for Marion. 

In the film, Tom is adamant that he loves Marion, but it’s clear he only wants her to stay at home and raise their children because that’s what his mother did. He doesn’t know any other way to move through life because society never provided him with any LGBTQ+ models to follow. He is a victim of cultural erasure and political expectations that nullify his heart’s desires and warp him into a confused and angry man.

Though Patrick seemingly feels no loyalty to Marion, there is some responsibility he needs to take for his affair with Tom. When watching this lustful, passionate and tender portrayal of Tom and Patrick’s romance, it is easy for us to forget that these beautiful stolen glances and instances of hidden hand-holding are all happening under the nose of someone’s wife. Yet, there seems to be no guilt on Patrick’s end, as he simply sees Marion as someone in the way. 

Tom’s desire to be a policeman is driven by a yearning for fatherly acceptance. He adopts the personality of his shared by his fellow officers, tricking himself into believing he is doing good work, despite violently enforcing fascist rule over his patrol zones. A compelling internal conflict is created within Tom. He desperately wants to have a successful career in the force, despite knowing that if his coworkers found out he was gay, they’d treat him the same way they taught him to treat other problematic citizens: as lesser subjects in need of reform.

It is this desperation to rise in the ranks and the fear-fueled repression of any hint of homosexuality that lead him to hastily marry Marion. He does it out of societal protocol, leaning into marriage out of supposed obligation rather than love. “My Policeman” argues that the marginalization of queer communities forces them to take on lives that aren’t their own. This in turn promotes a culture of repression because nobody is willing to hear out or accept safeguarded aspects of their identity which yearn to be disclosed. As Tom tries to conceal his homosexuality, he ends up hurting those around him because he can never speak truthfully. He instead assumes the act of a misogynist to throw suspicion away from his identity. 

In Tom’s mind, his constant gaslighting and lying toward the suspicions Marion has about his relationship with Patrick render him normal, neutralizing the way people might perceive him. But Marion’s toleration of Patrick begins to dwindle, and by the time she finds out about the affair at play, she blows out in rage. Corrin does a phenomenal job at displaying the rage of a woman who has fallen victim to infidelity. More so, she taps into the helplessness and humiliation of a wife who knows deep down that the man she spent her life loving can never love her the way she wants him to. 

In a misguided attempt to get her husband back, she does the unforgivable and sends a letter to the museum where Patrick works notifying them that he is gay, leading him to be arrested. This act reveals why 1999 Marion was so adamant about taking care of Patrick after his stroke. It forces the viewer to decide whether this act of kindness can absolve her of her sin. 

In the end, Marion leaves Tom to start living the life she missed out on, giving Tom and Patrick their last days together. But is that enough? Harry Styles stated the film was “wasted time,” that can never be recovered. Marion spent her entire life dedicated to a man who never really loved her. Tom spent his life yearning for a man who was not allowed to love him. Although Tom and Patrick’s final coming together is sweet, the obstacles in their life lay bare the corrupt nature of institutions that designate inhibitions on love. They declare a regiment of correctness that leaves the viewer searching for understanding amid constant confusion. 

The love and passion between Patrick and Tom is undeniable, and Marion’s rage is justifiable, yet the fact that none of these characters are likable remains true. It is not that they are particularly mean or cruel intentionally, but that their circumstances lead them to their harshness and betrayal. In this story, there is no saint, nor is there a demon, just humans who hurt each other for the sake of survival. “My Policeman” is a poignant story of two men who have finally found their soulmate in each other, and a cautionary tale of what happens when people cannot express their sexualities authentically. 

Contact Ary Russell at [email protected].