The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 48 minutes, Director – Hettie Macdonald

When a former colleague (Linda Bassett) writes saying she’s in a hospice with cancer, pensioner Harold Fry (Jim Broadbent) decides to walk nearly 500 miles, confronting his own past along the way, to reach her.

“I’m just going to the post box” Harold Fry (Jim Broadbent) assures his wife, Maureen (Penelope Wilton), after receiving a letter from a former colleague that morning. Harold has heard nothing from Queenie Hennessy (Linda Bassett) for years until she reveals that she’s in a hospice, dying from cancer. Thinking over his response he passes the post box, and many others on the way into town, eventually wandering into a petrol station shop and being told by the young woman (Nina Singh) behind the counter that her hope and belief that her aunt would get better when she had cancer helped her along. Determined to do more than just send a letter of condolence Harold sets off there and then on an almost 500 mile journey from south Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Meanwhile, his wife calls around the house and looks out on the driveway wondering where he’s got to. Her response is less one of worry and more one of frustration, it seems that they’re relationship hasn’t exactly been a close one for some time – cooped up in their rather empty, aside from one or two small decorations, home. As Harold walks (and considering how much walking there is in this film much of it avoids blandness) various elements of his past come to the fore. He says he’s not going to fail his friend again, and occasionally talks about how he believes he failed his son (Earl Cave) who it’s revealed passed away after a drug addiction. In many ways the further he walks the more Harold thinks about his past and the various relationships which have fallen apart throughout it.

These stories are often told through very brief flashbacks amongst everything else, meaning that they never quite have the time they might need causing them to not quite stick the landing. To people of various backgrounds all going through their own troubles. In a film that doesn’t embrace subtlety there are various instances where it’s made clear that even immigrants and gay people have their own personal struggles, but are also kind and helpful towards Harold in his journey without even knowing why he’s travelling. The latter instance scripted and performed as if it’s come straight out of the 1970s (it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Carry On film).

Yet, there’s something about the generally quaint, British tone of the film which keeps it moving. Yes, it might not be overly subtle and might struggle to cover everything it wants to, but there’s a watchable, likable enough nature to it; helped along by Broadbent’s central performance, and indeed Wilton’s turn which effectively lifts up her character’s cut-to moments. It’s something best captured in those aforementioned moments of walking. Harold on his own with his thoughts and determination, “I shall keep walking and she must keep living” he asserts.

There’s something about this tone, and in some parts the mild-mannered nature of the central character, which keeps things moving and creates much of the engagement for the 108 minute run-time. There may be some bumps which are truly revealed in the latter segments as the film stumbles due to not having delved much into the central character’s past beforehand. Yet, things still remain watchable thanks to the restrained British nature of the film, and perhaps the fact that the events themselves kick off very quickly. The tone and central performances are enough to lift things up and help them along through the occasionally bumpy terrain travelled along.

The flashbacks may not quite delve beyond the basics of the central character’s past, causing issues late into the film, but there’s enough to like about The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry’s quaint British tone to make it largely decent enough viewing for the time it’s on.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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