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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - a feel good film that didn't let us down

24 May 2023

Last month, u3a members were invited to a free screening of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, organised by eOne and the National Trust. There was also an opportunity to enjoy a Q&A session with the author of the book, Rachel Joyce, who also produced the film.

Derek Harwood, u3a Trust Treasurer

The expectation from the billing was that it was a feel-good film, and it didn’t let us down. The tale is about a man, Harold Fry (played by Jim Broadbent) who is going through a bit of a late life crisis. Married life (to Maureen, played by Penelope Wilton) has become a bit too routine, as reflected by the opening scene of putting out the bins.

Memories and guilt were triggered by a letter arriving from a previous work colleague, now in a hospice with not long to live due to cancer. Harold suddenly decides he needs to see Queenie (played by Linda Bassett) before she dies and without any further thoughts sets off to walk to Berwick-on-Tweed where Queenie resides.

Why he decides to walk there rather than hop on a train is not clear at first, and poor Maureen is left not understanding why her husband had suddenly decided to go off on this pilgrimage to Berwick. Initially, she was aggressive and felt Harold’s actions were foolish and selfish. But she slowly came to realise why Harold had to do what he was doing.

Jim Broadbent plays the part superbly, of course, and we follow Harold’s trials and tribulations as he journeys north helped by good souls in his hour of need. As Harold walks up the west coast through the highways and byways of England, we see grand vistas and various towns on route. On the way, he becomes a local hero in the press and is joined by a band of supporters.

It was a good advert for the best of England but possibly more could have been made of these sights and scenes. There also seemed some shortfalls in the storyline. How could Harold walk all this way in just a pair of deck shoes? Apart from the shoes surviving, his feet seemed to miraculously recover from initial blisters after just one treatment.

It is indeed a feel-good film, but one that does leave you with a few questions of reality and true purpose for this pilgrimage.

Valerie, Waltham Forest u3a

The film was exceptionally moving, and the pathos of the story was skilfully acted out by the cast. Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton were quite wonderful. I also found the cinematography beautiful, but subtle. A delightful film, sympathetic to Rachel Joyce’s story.

We were delighted to receive Rachel’s complimentary book, which she signed following the question-and-answer seminar.


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