Complete A-Z list

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The


Stars: Jim Broadbent, Penelope Wilton, Earl Cave, Linda Bassett, Monika Gossman, Joseph Mydell, Nina Singh, Daniel Frogson

Director: Hettie Macdonald

There's a lot in common here with Timothy Spall's 2021 movie The Last Bus, although Broadbent's elderly traveller is travelling here not from John o' Groats to Land's End, but from Devon to Berwick-on-Tweed on the Scottish borders. And he's walking all the way.

Hearing that an old friend (Bassett) who once did him a life-saving favour, is dying in a Berwick hospice, Harold writes her a letter of sympathy, leaves his wife Maureen (Wilton) at home to post it, and passes two post boxes and a post office before something a garage girl (Singh) tells him about the power of faith impels him to keep on going.

Harold does have a car, but is determined to make the increasingly painful trek on foot. 'Do you need a lift?' asks a passing motorist. 'No thanks,' replies Harold. 'I made a promise.' Determined to make the trip without aids, he send back his credit cards and watch to his bewildered wife, who is bereft without him.

On the way, we begin to piece together the tragic backstory that has led to all this, involving the couple's bright but pill- and alcohol-addicted son (Cave). Collapsing midway, Harold's marathon would have come to an end, but for the efforts of a Slovakian doctor (Gossman) who is unable to find any work in England but cleaning, but knows how to dress Harold's badly-infected feet and, after a vital day's rest, send him on his way. On his way, he picks up junkie Wilf (Frogson) and a stray dog and, before long, he, like Spall before him, becomes a minor celebrity, before he decides to shed those following him and finish this on his own.

Broadbent seems to have cornered the market in quirky old codgers, and he doesn't disappoint here, as, weatherbeaten, unshaven and hollow-eyed, he attempts to complete the journey. Wilton is also extremely good as Maureen, and the actors will extract a tear from many before the end. It has to be admitted that the film, like's Harold's epic walk, is also a bit of a slog at times, the sheer nature of the material hampering the director's attempts to rivet us throughout. This is not one for those raised on Marvel movies and indeed, at the public showing I caught, myself and two others were the only ones left on the cinema by the time the credits rolled.

I'm away now until mid-May, so this will be my last review for a while.

David Quinlan

UK 2022. UK Distributor: eOne. Colour (unspecified).
108 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 30 Apr 2023