A REVIEW OF THE TELEVISION FILM THE POLICE (1990)
The Police, directed by Ian Knox and starring Guy Faulkner as Edgar, was broadcast on British television on 16 September 1990 as episode 3 of the second series of the BBC series Screen One. It was 85 minutes long.
Inside The Police
by Edward Bangor, April 1991
a BBC special pokes irony at the child-sex hysteria, but misses mark
Edgar is a clever 11-year-old in an average British state primary school. He has two problems: Gordon and Gavin, run-of-the-mill bullies, both also 11, who specialize in eating other boys’ sandwiches.
Edgar thinks of a way to get out of this situation by forming a small group of friends into a secret police force. They set up in a disused public house which becomes their HQ and issue themselves warrant cards. For a week, they practice investigatory technique.
Gordon is the first to be brought in for questioning. The idea is to get him to sign a confession to his bullying. This is done by handcuffing him to a pipe in HQ’s “cell.” Gordon gives in, after a few hours of interrogation and crying. But Edgar had to make sure that “the police aren’t informed on.” So Gordon’s trousers are pulled down and several Polaroids taken of his genitals.
It works. Next day, Gordon goes to the headmaster and tells him of all the things that he has done. Gavin is the next target. Though he has gotten wind of what is happening and runs when the police approach, he gets caught anyway.
After Gavin confesses, the police have a new problem: no more criminals (“unlike like the real police,” one says). So they invent some. Keith has some stolen books planted on him and is arrested in a dawn raid on his home. He is locked in the cell, photographed, handcuffed for the night. When two eight-year-olds are cornered together in a toilet cubicle, they are brought into custody, Polaroids of their genitals are taken, and they are charged with “indecency in a public place.”
With his schoolmates terrified, Edgar has won virtual control over the school. But the adults don’t catch on. One day Mr. Acheson, a teacher, tells Edgar off in front of the class. The boy is vengeful. In a vivid dream he shoots the history teacher dead in the midst of a school riot.
The real plan takes a little longer. After a school dance, Mr. Acheson drives home, discovering a small girl alone. He gives her a lift home, but ends up being forced into the HQ at the end of Edgar’s shotgun. A trail to decide charges of “setting a bad example” is arranged, with Edgar as both defense and prosecution. The jury brings in a verdict of not guilty, but with threats of violence Edgar forces them to change their minds. Mr. Acheson is cuffed, blindfolded, and locked in the cell. Edgar lectures him about his crimes.
During the gym lesson next day, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the (real) local police arrive to ask if anyone has seen Mr. Acheson. “The police” hurry to their HQ to find that the teacher has hanged himself. Now they have a problem. All want to confess save Edgar, who talks the others around in the end. He goes to the CID and tells them that Mr. Acheson had been trying to seduce him at the dance, and that the teacher had offered to take him to the disused public house to meet a “special friend.” The boy didn’t go, but returned later to collect some of his belongings and found the man dead.
The CID go to the public house, excuse the cuff marks on Acheson’s body as resulting from “sick games with his friend,” and conclude the teacher hanged himself because of his conscience - ”It gets them all in the end,” says one cop. They find the Polaroids of the de-bagged boys that Edgar planted.
The reviewer for Radio Times (the BBC’s TV Guide) described The Police as a cross between Lord of the Flies and Death Wish, but there is more to it than that: homophobia and sex-abuse hysteria.
Edgar exploits his classmates’ fear of having Polaroids of their genitals shown around school to keep them quite about their torture and abuse at his hands. (The victims of the police are later given the chance to buy the photos back with two Mars bars and a five pound note, though some are always kept back “for security.”) When his followers find the two eight-year-olds indulging in a little show-and-tell, he says (his face full of contempt), “People like you make me sick.” Yet, he is fully prepared to keep and look at a collection of Polaroids of each and every boy’s genitals in his school, and to use the homophobia of his fellow police against them when they want to confess to Mr. Acheson’s murder, pointing out that “little boys get played with in prison.”
The ease with which a fairly bright 11-years-old can set up a totally innocent man as a child molester is the really frightening and plausible thing about this thriller. All Edgar needs to do to convince the real cops is hunch up his body in a large armchair (hence looking smaller) and tell the CID about how Mr. Acheson touched his “tail” (a phrase well below his normal standard of speech) at the dance. The CID then fill in the rest of the extremely unlikely “facts” with their own perverse ideas. Of course they don’t ask Edgar too many questions because they don’t want to upset him. After all, the young “victim” is already dry-mouthed and sullen.
Arthur Ellis, the writer of The Police, should be thanked for bringing these issues up. But there is a major complaint, as he, too, bends toward the child-abuse hype. In a worrying attempt to make Mr. Acheson’s death more “acceptable,” the teacher is seen in several shots early in the film furtively looking at the school photos of some girls. Is this meant to suggest that he is really a closeted girl-lover? That Edgar’s actions can be excused, even if the boy didn’t know this? True, this is only very circumstantial evidence, but it was noticed in at least two reviews of the film, and suggests that many viewers will not grasp its true messages.
Reviewed originally published in the NAMBLA Bulletin (New York), Volume XII, No. 3, April 1991, pp. 13 & 15.
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