The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
The great quest in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is, rather than Fry’s pilgrimage itself, the attempt to recapture audience sympathy for him after erring himself into such a deep hole in the film’s initial sequences. Through eked-out backstory revelation, it is half achieved, but there remains a trace of sour aftertaste after two hours in the company of Jim Broadbent’s character.
Fry, a quiet pensioner residing with his wife, Maureen (Penelope Wilton), upon hearing that his friend, Queenie, is dying in a hospice some 500 miles away, pledges to walk to her in the hope that, in the process of waiting for weeks for him to arrive, she will go on living. A feel-good premise for what appears on the surface to be one of those delightful, British, countryside-in-the-sun affairs: but there is darkness lurking within. Fry’s decision initially appears selfish and nonsensical but, as more comes to light of his, Maureen’s and Queenie’s past, a sympathetic shift starts to occur. The flashbacks, brief and eerie, yet full of unfurling revelation, are extremely effective.
The film is really quite beautiful. It is wonderfully shot, under the direction of Hettie Macdonald, encapsulating an overtly charming but not altogether false Britain as Fry passes through. The characters he encounters on his journey are intended to be a major facet of his tale, but they feel less genuine – not even cinematically exaggerated, just unreal. They do not behave as people do. It’s hard, from an audience perspective, to stomach the whole-hearted support they offer him, aware that he has just left his wife without discussion to walk the B roads of England for eight weeks. Possibly, this was something lost in translation from the novel (its author, Rachel Joyce, adapted it herself for the screenplay).
Nevertheless, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has an unmistakable draw. Broadbent and Wilton are, of course, both fantastic. The charm is not lost in its shortcomings, nor the bleak devastation that it shrouds. It’s not quite a Sunday afternoon feel-good watch, nor a barrel of popcorn primetime thriller, but it is also, in a curious and unique way, both.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is released nationwide on 28th April 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry here: