The Way of St James, also known as El Camino de Santiago de Campostela, is an ancient pilgrims’ trail which meanders from the French Pyrenees to Santiago in north-west Spain, where the remains of St James are reportedly buried.
In the film “The Way”, grieving father Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) spontaneously decides to walk the 800km trail on behalf of his estranged son Daniel (Emilio Estevez), who died in a mountain storm on his first day on El Camino.
Shouldering Daniel’s backpack, plus a box containing his ashes, Tom strides out at a cracking pace, grim-faced and taciturn, doing his best to ignore the many friendly pilgrims en route.
Despite his efforts to keep his distance, he ends up with an unlikely trio of fellow travellers -a gregarious Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), a brittle Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) and an irritatingly garrulous Irishman (James Nesbitt – and as the trek unfolds they develop a companionable understanding.
Sheen gives a masterly performance as the comfortably conventional Californian eye doctor who gradually loosens up to embrace the challenges of life on the trail.
“The Way” was filmed along the actual Camino and makes the most of the magnificent Basque country, with real-life pilgrims as background players and entertaining encounters with some of the locals and their often spartan hostels.
The film was written and directed by Sheen’s son Emilio Estevez, who also plays Tom’s son Daniel, seen in flashbacks and in fleeting glimpses along the trail.
Director Estevez skilfully handles what could have been an overly sentimental theme and has created a leisurely, contemplative film, enlivened by welcome touches of humour, which gives a realistic picture of the rewards and hazards experienced by El Camino pilgrims.