Waves roaring with vigor, a dismal Brighton perpetually generates reminders of its once-lustrous landscape. Each crash prompts new memories, all sumptuous grins and tense touches in an environment wrought with abhorrence.
Director Michael Grandage’s “My Policeman” crafts this rich atmosphere, both intimate and warm, while simultaneously relaying the town’s animosity toward those framed within its landscape. Based on Bethan Roberts’ 2012 novel of the same name, “My Policeman” is nothing short of an aesthetic marvel, but it stumbles in dissecting the psyches of its leading characters.
Drawing between a vibrant 1950s Brighton and the somber town in its present day, the film follows an unlikely trio — naive schoolteacher Marion Taylor (Emma Corrin), charming policeman Tom Burgess (Harry Styles) and suave museum curator Patrick Hazlewood (David Dawson) — who grapple with their complex relationships with one another as they grow older.
Elegant and diaphanous, the film is like a series of enchanting paintings — each shot a wondrous, carefully crafted piece of art. Strolling through Patrick’s expansive art gallery, the central trio consistently understands visual art as extensions of self, something Grandage masterfully exhibits throughout the film’s first act.
The film initially maintains its focus on Marion, inviting viewers into her world of romance and possibility with the playful Tom and the pristine Patrick. Leading Marion and Tom through the museum’s endless supply of landscapes and portraits, Patrick pauses at J. M. W. Turner’s “Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbor’s Mouth” — a painting of a torrential wave consuming a miniscule boat.
“Notice the light striking the crest of the crashing waves,” he says. “You feel they could crush you, or take you under.” Focusing on Marion, Grandage lingers on her watchful eye, as she revels in Patrick’s bounty of knowledge.
Yet, it isn’t until an older version of Marion gets a hold of Patrick’s diary detailing his youth that the film breaks away from Marion’s naïveté and replays past events in their actuality. In revisiting Marion’s interactions with the two, the camera focuses on what she has missed – subtle glances in a museum full of visual spectacles, delicate touches shared during monotonous recitals and afternoons spent entangled with one another, smoking cigarettes on a striped sofa.
Prior to Patrick’s introduction to Marion, both he and Tom visit the museum together, looking at Turner’s seemingly cacophonous painting to underscore their feelings: “You can sense the waves. You can feel how strong they are, like swimming in rough surf,” Tom explains.
“Exciting and frightening,” Patrick responds. In associating their feelings with the wave, it is no surprise what follows: A relationship full of crests and troughs that nevertheless roars with passion and anticipation.
In taking time to exhibit the understated, vulnerable moments that make up the beginning of Patrick and Tom’s relationship, the film prospers. Blurring the line between life and art, the film notes the congruity of feeling that persists in each of these spheres.
This interest in aesthetics and art is one of the most compelling aspects of “My Policeman.” However, it subsequently leads to trite moments in which the film feels lackluster despite the richness of its source material.
For a narrative wrought with devastation and betrayal, it seems only necessary that the film would candidly exhibit the ways in which young love is degraded. Yet, “My Policeman” lacks proper emotional depth. Despite its poignant plot, Grandage relies on standard tropes and motifs that make the film vapid and surface level rather than exceptional.
Corrin and Dawson deliver astounding performances, but the script fails to probe their characters’ complex personas and, instead, merely displays two individuals who feel surprisingly hollow. Styles, despite his sparkling stage presence, stumbles beside Corrin and Dawson, delivering a performance that initially warrants potential but ultimately falls flat.
Though the trio’s dynamic prompts promise, especially given Grandage’s representation of the group across time periods, their interactions feel disjointed — as if one is watching two separate films spliced together. This ultimately stems from Grandage’s inability to unite these narratives; without exploring the inner workings of its leading characters, the film gradually deteriorates.
While viewers are initially invited into the film’s enchanting milieu, — all delicate sketches and warm tête-à-têtes — in riding out its radiant, glacé wave, “My Policeman” inevitably crashes.