Directed by: Hettie Macdonald
Written by: Rachel Joyce
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Penelope Wilton, Linda Bassett, Joseph Mydell, Earl Cave, Monika Gossman
Released: June 8, 2023
Grade: B+

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Based on the fictional 2012 novel authored by Rachel Joyce (who also developed the film’s screenplay), The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the story of an elderly man who goes for a walk… and then keeps walking.  His name is Harold (Broadbent) and when his wife (Wilton) asks “Will you be long?”, he simply says “I’m only going to the post box.”

Harold’s response was accurate at the time.  His intention was to mail a letter (he’s not up with technology) to Queenie (Bassett), an old work colleague dying of cancer and living in a hospice in Northern England.  It’s while talking to a stranger at a gas station that he comes up with the inspired/insane idea to walk roughly 500 miles from his home in Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed.  His odd rationale is that he hopes it’ll serve as motivation for Queenie to keep fighting and keep living.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense.  You think Harold could have at least bought himself more comfortable clothes (he’s walking around in a long sleeve shirt, cardigan, and tie) and better fitting shoes (he’s got blisters from day one).  There are also peculiar scenes where he’s channelling Christopher McCandless (depicted in 2007’s Into the Wild) and living completely “off the land” with no money and shelter.  He’s as much delusional and he is motivational.

All of that said, the film’s big heart overrides its shortcomings.  Harold interacts with an assortment of warm, comforting people across his two-month journey and, while some the conversations are a little strange (one in a diner stands out), they remind us about the importance of human connection and being open with each other.  These chats, along with the time spent walking alone, help Harold reflect on past mistakes (the flashbacks are a little clunky) and value the many positives in his life today.

74-year-old Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (Iris) is wonderfully likeable in the lead role and so too is Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) as the doubting wife struggling to reconcile her husband’s actions.  There’s no villain in this tale.  It’s a film which highlights the best of humanity and in doing so, should leave a smile on audiences’ faces.  A simple but effective feel-good yarn!