Although director Michael Grandage had a pretty good idea of Harry Styles’ star power when he first cast him in My Policeman — his sophomore feature and adapted from Bethan Roberts’ 2012 romance novel — it only really hit home once rumors of the musician’s involvement in the film became public.
“When it started to get out, sales of the book just went through the roof. It was abso- lutely berserk,” says the Brit, a celebrated and multi-award-win- ning theater director who marked his first turn as filmmaker with 2016’s Berlinale-bowing Genius. “This poor, lovely author who had just been ambling along mind- ing her own business suddenly became a best-selling writer literally overnight. And I thought, ‘Oh my God, I see, that’s the power of this boy.’”
A story of forbidden love in 1950s Britain when same-sex relationships were illegal, My Policeman, which is with Amazon Prime Video and premieres Sept. 11 at the Toronto International Film Festival, sees Styles play Tom, a police officer who develops feelings for museum curator Patrick (David Dawson). While the two keep their relationship a secret, Tom marries local schoolteacher Marion (Emma Corrin), whose jealousy would have destructive consequences. Shifting to the 1990s, the three (played by Linus Roache, Rupert Everett and Gina McKee, respectively) are still reeling with regret but seek to repair the damage done 40 years earlier.
Given his music career and a hectic touring schedule, attracting the interest of Styles might seem like an uphill struggle. But Grandage admits they never actually approached the star, whose only onscreen role when My Policeman was in development had been Christopher Nolan’sDunkirk (although his soon-to-be involvement in Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling was known — the film would shoot almost back-to-back with My Policeman).
With the film script circulating, it was Styles’ team that reached out, saying he’d loved it and wanted to discuss it further. Shortly after, in Grandage’s office in London’s West End, the director met someone who not only had read the script and novel inside out but could talk “very, very eloquently” about what he could bring to the character of Tom. Notes Grandage, “He was very clear, saying, ‘I’ve done one film, and I’m just making another now, and I know that I would love something like this to be my next film project.’ ”
Getting one of the world’s biggest names in pop involved in his next feature may have been unexpectedly straightforward, but Grandage had similar good fortune when it came to casting a future princess. Before it was revealed they would be playing Diana Spencer in The Crown, Corrin had been mentioned by a producer who said he’d heard “on the grapevine very good things, and that they were very, very interesting.” With Styles attached, however, Grandage was worried about getting someone few had heard of before to play My Policeman’s other major part.
“But the consensus was that the world would have heard of them pretty quickly, not just with Diana but everything else,” he says of Corrin. The consensus was spot-on (Corrin also has the lead role in Netflix’s upcoming Lady Chatterley’s Lover about to land, with their Crown-fueled stardom looking set to skyrocket even further). And then he met the actor and, like with Styles, knew instantly. “It was very obvious I was in a room with somebody who was burning to play this role and knew exactly what they wanted to bring to it.”
Although it’s been six years since his first feature, which delved into the relationship between author Thomas Wolfe and his editor Max Perkins, Grandage says that having “loved, loved, loved every part of working on it,” he’d been desperate to get back behind the camera once more. So alongside juggling his theater commitments (in the years since, his Michael Grandage Company has put on, among several performances, Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore), he began developing several projects. But then My Policeman came his way via producers Greg Berlanti and Robbie Roger over dinner in New York, and he went straight to work.
For Grandage — and he says for Styles too — he was very much drawn to the “political aspect” of the story and about making a film that has “something to say as part of a bigger debate” in today’s society. And despite My Policeman’s historic setting, he says he feels it has an unfortu- nate poignancy, claiming that the “substantial progress” made since the 1950s suddenly has a sense of vulnerability.
“For the very first time in my lifetime, I think it’s fragile again. And I think this will alert people, hopefully even educate people and certainly remind people, that if you let it be fragile and let it go backwards, this is where you get to. You get to a place where people cannot be themselves and cannot be free.”