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Robbie Rogers had finally reached his boyhood dream of playing professional soccer, first as a part of Columbus Crew in Ohio and then later as a member of the English soccer team Leeds United. But he was keeping his personal life—and the fact that he was gay—a secret. “My experience in sports was that you can’t be gay. The only person I knew about was Justin Fashanu, and he killed himself,” Rogers says now, reflecting back on that time. “I was very much struggling with who I was. I hadn’t had a love story of my own. I was thinking about regrets and where I would be in 10, 20, 30 years.”
While in Leeds, someone gave him a copy of My Policeman, a 2012 romance novel by Bethan Roberts. It shook his world. “It was kind of like my coming-out book,” he says. “I really think the book found me.”
The story, set in Brighton in 1957, follows a policeman named Tom Burgess who is gay, but living in a society where it’s illegal to be so. He begins dating a schoolteacher named Marion, but also embarks on a love affair in secret with a museum curator named Patrick Hazelwood. Forced to repress his true feelings, he decides to marry Marion, and as tensions rise between the married couple, Patrick’s life ends up in shambles.
It’s a powerful story of forbidden love, regret, and living as your true self. Rogers, who came out publicly in February 2013, has read it multiple times over the years and eventually shared it with his then boyfriend, prolific producer Greg Berlanti (they married in 2017). They teamed up with Sarah Schechter, partner at Berlanti Productions, and Cora Palfrey and Philip Herd of Independent Entertainment to produce the project and adapt the novel into a film.
The end result is a sweeping love story, starring three bright-burning stars—Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, and David Dawson, as shown in these first-look images—that captures the stifling hold of societal hurdles. It took about eight years to get it made, but for Rogers, it feels like the film, which Amazon will release in theaters in the U.S. and U.K on October 21 and on streaming worldwide November 4, is coming out at just the right time. “Unfortunately, we see what’s going on in Supreme Court, what’s going on in Texas, going in Florida, in different places in the world,” says Rogers of the recent string of antigay “Don’t Say Gay” bills and similar legislation. “The world moves forward slowly and then there are very ignorant people that want to send us back to the ’50s.”
My Policeman — with a script by Oscar-nominated scribe Ron Nyswaner — jumps between two time periods: the 1950s, in which Tom (Styles) is navigating this love triangle with Marion (Corrin) and Patrick (Dawson); and 40 years later, when Tom (Linus Roache) and Marion’s (Gina McKee) strained life together becomes more complicated when Marion agrees to take in Patrick (Rupert Everett) after he suffers a stroke.
When director Michael Grandage, a prolific British theater director who found himself drawn to the story as a gay man, began looking for the trio of young actors to star in the 1950s-set story line, Styles was not on their radar. His team actually came to Grandage’s, saying that Styles had read the script and was very interested in the film.
Grandage met with Styles in his London office, and was immediately impressed by the pop star. Styles, known best for his time as a part of boy band One Direction and his successful solo career, hadn’t done much in the film world yet, making his acting debut in Christopher Nolan’s 2017 war film, Dunkirk. But Grandage says Styles came to that meeting as a fully formed actor. “He had read the script so many times that he knew every single beat of it at that meeting. I found that incredibly impressive. He knew other people’s lines; he knew all of his lines. He knew why he wanted to talk about it, why one scene worked this way and another worked another way,” says Grandage.
Styles’s career onstage and the massive fan following he’s amassed also made it clear that he and Tom actually have a lot in common. “This story is about two people that are in love with Tom, slightly obsessed with him,” points out Rogers. “Harry—the world is so transfixed on him, on his every move.”
And it would turn out, Styles’s limited experience as an actor worked well for this part, says Grandage. “Because he hasn’t done much, he hasn’t developed the ability to work out tricks or even lie. He can only do it truthfully and as he knows it,” he says, likening his naturalistic work to that of a young Albert Finney or Tom Courtenay. “They just bring themselves to the role, and it seems to be very uncomplicated in the way they achieve it and Harry had that,” he says.