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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

average rating is 4 out of 5


Brian Penn


Posted on:

Apr 29, 2023

Film Reviews
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Directed by:
Hettie Macdonald
Written by:
Rachel Joyce
Jim Broadbent, Penelope Wilton

The British film industry first grew by connecting with our national characteristics; a celebration of the eccentricity and decency that make us who we are. However, the path trodden with such distinction by Ealing Films (among others) seemed temporarily lost. Now the genre has been revived with some wonderfully ‘British’ movies. The latest is this charming new film directed by Hettie Macdonald and based on the novel by Rachel Joyce.


The story begins with a retired couple living quietly in Devon. Harold Fry (Jim Broadbent) receives a letter from former work colleague Queenie Hennessey (Linda Bassett). Queenie is now resident in a hospice and is writing to say goodbye. Reply duly drafted he heads for the post office but is struck by an epiphany en route; he should say goodbye to her in person. So decides to walk to the hospice in Berwick-on-Tweed, 471 miles away. He informs wife Maureen (Penelope Wilton) via a call box of his intention. Harold’s logic is simple; he must keep on walking so Queenie keeps on living. An incredulous Maureen implores him to return home but Harold is determined. Along the way he meets a variety of characters and becomes an unwitting media sensation.


To truly appreciate the value of this story, any sense of logic must be pushed firmly to one side (like why not jump on a train and see her?). His existence has been ordinary and achieved nothing of real value. The walk becomes an atonement for the things Harold has got wrong in his life. Glimpses of the back story are revealed in tantalising flashbacks; his marriage to Maureen, the significance of Queenie in their lives and fractious relationship with son David. The solution is held back until the final frames and not quite as obvious as one might think.


It’s easy to scoff at the silliness of Harold’s actions, but also difficult not to be charmed by the sincerity and underlying message; that it’s never too late to right a wrong and the kindness of strangers will never cease to surprise us. Harold Fry is bloody-minded and cantankerous but with his heart in the right place. The acting is superlative with a thoughtful and perceptive script. Overall, a welcome change of pace compared to many films on general release.

About the Film Critic
Brian Penn
Brian Penn
Theatrical Release
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