My Policeman director Michael Grandage believes that something as simple as the touch of a hand can reveal everything about the relationship between two characters. That is certainly the case for My Policeman stars Harry Styles and David Dawson, who play young Tom and Patrick — a policeman and a museum curator who secretly fall in love in 1950s England. In order for Tom to keep up appearances at the station, he decides to marry his girlfriend Marion (Emma Corrin), without telling her the truth about his relationship with Patrick. As Marion develops suspicions, the relationship between the three of them grows increasingly complicated.
Grandage says the “sensuality of touch” between characters is the “single most important story” he could tell in My Policeman. “It was important to represent all parts of the intimacy within the story. It’s kind of crucial to the understanding of Tom’s dilemma, really,” Grandage told MovieMaker.
Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Bethan Roberts, My Policeman takes place during a time in the UK when being queer could get a person beaten, fired, or even thrown in jail.
“’50s England is an era that I didn’t know that much about, in terms of the laws and society that were in place, and especially as a gay man myself,” Dawson, who plays young Patrick, told MovieMaker. “That really got into my heart, so it made me really determined to want to be a part of this story.”
For Dawson, filming the movie’s multiple sex scenes with Harry Styles was “kind of like a dance.”
“We really wanted these scenes to be about storytelling,” he said. “Harry and I made sure we always checked in with each other to ensure that we all felt comfortable with every part of this story.”
Grandage brought in intimacy coordinator Ben Wright, with whom he had worked previously on theatrical productions, to help choreograph the sex scenes between Styles and Dawson, as well as between Styles and Corrin. The director wanted the scenes to show Tom’s inner life.
“He’s free when he’s intimate with Patrick, and quite not-so free when he’s intimate with Marion. And I think we wanted to tell that story visually. I saw all of the sex scenes as an opportunity to create some kind of choreography around them, particularly the male sex scenes,” Grandage said.
“In this movie, they advance the story,” he added. “The most crucial thing about what they’re trying to do, what both the scenes between the two men and the scenes between Tom and Marion do, is they help the viewer to understand the abandonment and freedom he can experience with a man and what he can’t feel when he’s with a woman, and you kind of need the sex scenes to help you understand.”
Of course, neither Grandage nor Dawson could ignore the popstar-sized elephant in the room.
“When Michael said that that’s who you’re going to be telling this story with, you can’t help but think, how strange is life?” Dawson said. “Very quickly, you have to consciously get rid of [the idea of] that person that you’ve known on screen or from their music. But I will say, sincerely, Harry makes that very easy to do. It really was an absolute pleasure to work with him. He’s incredibly down to earth and genuine.”
How did Harry Styles, who appeared earlier this year in girlfriend Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, end up cast as Tom?
“Harry Styles kind of chose himself,” Grandage said. “We hadn’t actually sent him a script, but the script had been distributed within his agency, and they knew what he was looking for in material. So they read this script and thought, This is actually the kind of thing he’s looking for. So they sent it to him, and then contacted us by saying… ‘Harry would be interested in meeting for this. He’s read the script, he’s read the book. He would like to talk to you about why he would like to play Tom,’ and I met him on those terms. It was a fantastically collaborative meeting — it was so collaborative that I thought, I don’t really want to look elsewhere for another Tom.”
Grandage hopes that My Policeman leaves audiences with a sense of hope for the future.
“I think there’s a very strong, truthful element to the LGBTQ community that is presented in this film,” he said. “There is genuine hope at the end of the film. It’s not a sad end at all to their story. It’s a very, very difficult and complex story, getting to the end. But the final moments of the film offer release and hope for the future, and in that respect, I think there’s a positive message.”
Dawson also hopes the movie will remind people of how far the queer community has come.
“I’ve got a greater appreciation of what people have fought for and achieved over the years, so I think it’s given me greater pride in who I am,” he said. “I’d see it as a reminder of ways to push forward and progress, and to never, never go back.”
My Policeman is now in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Main image: David Dawson, Emma Corrin and Harry Styles in My Policeman. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh, courtesy of Amazon Content Services LLC.