Right opposite a giant illuminated sign that reads “Love Accepted Everywhere,” British pop singer and budding actor Harry Styles joined his castmates and director Michael Grandage at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Sunday night (Sept. 11) for the world premiere of the romantic drama My Policeman, a beautiful (and sad) statement about love, regret and freedom.
And while the sold-out film played to its first public audience, they all headed a short distance away to the Fairmont Royal York hotel to accept the TIFF Tribute Actor Award, a first for an ensemble, and already creating an Oscar buzz.
The film opens in theatres on Oct. 21 and worldwide on Prime Video, Nov. 4
In My Policeman, Styles — whose first dramatic role was in a 2017 Christopher Nolan-directed WWII epic Dunkirk and his next in now-girlfriend Olivia Wilde’s thriller Don’t Worry Darling (in theatres Sept. 23) — plays the antithesis of his colorful, free-to-be-me self in this adaptation of Bethan Roberts’ 2012 book, inspired by the 40-year forbidden relationship between married author E. M. Forster and policeman Bob Buckingham.
Set in 1950s Brighton, England, when homosexual sex was a crime, Styles plays Tom, a closeted gay policeman in a secret relation with Patrick, a museum curator (David Dawson), while courting and eventually marrying Marion, a schoolteacher (Emma Corrin).
Flash forward 40 years, and we see the same three characters — played by Gina Mckee (older Marion), Linus Roache (older Tom) and Rupert Everett (older Patrick) — trying to come to terms with a life lived based lies and destruction, perhaps too late to repair.
Grandage, before the screening at the Princess of Wales theatre, briefly brought the cast onstage, with Styles — dressed for the occasion in a forest green blazer adorned with giant ribboned foliage, and pale green slacks — getting a smidgen more cheers and claps, but not to the deafening degree or length at his concerts.
The fans in attendance knew there is a time and a place, which was outside the theater. Some fans lucky enough to get tickets didn’t even know what the film was about and admitted they wouldn’t see it if Styles wasn’t in it.
At the brief Q&A following the screening, Styles said he “felt very lucky” to work with Dawson and Corrin because “they’re both wonderful people to be around,” explaining how that aided the scenes they had together. The film includes scenes where the three of them are hanging out, as well as very intimate one-on-one sex scenes.
“Having a base of a real friendship outside of the characters obviously allows for the friendship scenes, if you will, it doesn’t require much acting,” Styles said. “And then in the more intense scenes, there’s a lot of trust and a safety there. So all of that benefits from a real connection with the people you work with, which I felt very lucky to have during this project.”
Asked about working with the six actors, Grandage called them “the most wonderful group of people I’ve ever worked with,” noting he went to college with Roache, has worked with Mckee and Dawson “a great deal,” and “talked about” working with Everett for “most of my career.” When he mentions Styles and Corrin, huge applause erupts.
Of working with Styles and Dawson, Corrin said, “We were very lucky because we had about two, three weeks rehearsal, which was very rare in film and, I think, because of my history in theater and all of that, we had three weeks to break down the scenes and talk about them, love talking about them, which was lovely, just to figure it out. It meant that when it came to film, we all felt very safe and comfortable.”
Added Dawson: “Early on, we promised each other that we’d look after each through the process and that’s what made this a special team to be a part of.”
Roache, who played the older version of Styles’ character, was able to look at some of that material because the 1950s scenes were shot first.
“Michael liberated us as well because…you’re not the same person you are 40 years later. So, in a way you didn’t have to be the exact mirror of your counterpart. Harry for me was the young man with all of his future ahead of him and all that possibility and color and potential. And then I’m the man frozen in time who’s living with that heartache and heartbreak,” Roache says.
“And so I just contemplated that dimension but, again, Michael is the one that brought us into the same world, even though there were two very distinct periods and worlds; it was one universe that we were in.”
After no more than 10 minutes, TIFF lead programmer for special presentations Jane Schoettle wrapped up the Q&A because “some of you have planes to catch.”
Taking that to mean him, Styles made a sheepish face and pretended to dash off the stage, which was met with laughter and applause. But it turns out he did spend considerable time saying hello and signing autographs for the hundreds of fans behind the barricade, many of whom had waited since the morning see him.
Styles is currently on the North America leg of his world tour, promoting his third studio album, Harry’s House. He resumes his 15-date residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Sept. 14, and then has six dates in Austin, six in Chicago, and a 15-date residency in Los Angeles, before continuing through December.