It’s an ordinary day in an ordinary life when retired pensioner Harold Fry gets a sad little note from former workmate Queenie.
She’s in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed and she has cancer. She has not long to live.
Harold (Jim Broadbent), who lives in suburban Devon with his wife Maureen (Penelope Wilton), writes a trite little sympathy note to Queenie and sets off to walk to the post office.
A chance encounter with a young woman changes his mind. She tells him how her faith in her aunt’s recovery helped the aunt to heal.
Harold, who has never done anything spontaneous in his life, decides to keep walking to save Queenie. It’s 800 kilometres from Devon to Berwick-upom-Tweed in Northumberland, but he is convinced Queenie will stay alive as long as he keeps walking.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a simple tale, but in the sure hands of Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton, it becomes a perceptive commentary on the buttoned-up British way of life.
The marriage of Harold and Maureen is grimly frigid. We glimpse a past tragedy but they never speak about it.
When Harold fails to return from the post office, Maureen is at first bewildered, then angry and confused.
Is he ever coming back? Where does she fit in?
She is brusque and dismissive at first when he calls her from public phone boxes (he has left his phone at home) but gradually she realises how much she misses him.
Harold, ill-equipped as he is for his long walk, is soon struggling with blisters and bruises but he is astonished at the kindness of people along the way.
For a man who has never talked about himself, he is surprisingly chatty with strangers.
Inevitably he meets a journalist who features him on the evening news. Next thing he has attracted followers, keen to join him on his pilgrimage.
This is a beautiful film to look at, with the English woods and streams and fields beautifully photographed.
The film is an excellent adaptation of Rachel Joyce’s best-selling 2012 novel, directed by Hettie Macdonald with a screenplay by Joyce.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry opens on Thursday, June 8, at Luna Leederville, Luna On SX and the Windsor, with advance screenings from Friday, Jun 2 to Monday, June 5.
Watch the trailer…