How the death of a loved one is received is dealt with in different ways by different people. Our Editor in his formative years once worked as a driver for a funeral directors and he recounts the day he drove the coffin of an elderly lady through the streets of London where a seemingly endless number of people clapped, cheered and generally celebrated the late widow’s life with a whole number of street performers and even marching bands. It was only when he was called by the funeral director that he found out he’d taken a wrong run and had found himself in the middle of the Lord Mayors New Year’s Day parade. Frankly he’s an idiot (‘You’re fired!’ – Ed) But the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a different matter altogether when Jim Broadbent as the title character, an retired pub landlord now living in Devon, receives a letter from an old friend and colleague.
His friend is now in a hospice seeing out her final days and Harold, rather the post the letter he has written, determines to visit her in the hospice in Berwick on Tweed. It a 600 mile trip that’s inadvertently prompted by a young petrol station cashier with Harold believing that his pilgrimage will somehow let her live for longer at least until her arrives. So, unannounced and on the spur of the moment he sets off with little that might help him on his journey. Ill prepared Harold just starts walking to the disdain of his wife Maureen ( Penelope Wilton) but her anger slowly wanes and she begins to re-assess their length marriage and Harold too reassesses his life with regard to their rebellious and antagonistic son in a series of flashbacks and who seems to be at the core of their seemingly loveless marriage. In a way Maureen soon comes to realise that his pilgrimage, not knowing when he will return becomes something of a bereavement to her too and her thoughts turn to her without him and actually how much she really does love him.
The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry s something of a road movie with Harold meeting people along the way although his trek soon becomes the centre of an unwanted media circus with an array of hangers on most of whom don’t have a clear reason for tagging along other than it being just something to do. Ultimately all these drifters and hangers on do is depersonalise what is a deeply personal journey for Harold. But despite the weary cynicism of modern life Harold finds random acts of unprompted kindness and the comfort of strangers and there’s an undeniable undercurrent of theology about his journey, man’s compassion for his fellow man, living off the land and the shedding of unnecessary possessions.
Jim Broadbent is as likeable and sympathetic as he is in so many of his screen roles and this is a reminder that he is one of our greatest actors and though The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry is gentle and undemanding viewing there’s a melancholy about it that belies the story and a reminder of the moments of loneliness and disappointments that afflict us all and in that respect the film is a celebration of being just being kind to each other.
related feature : Getting Jim Broadbent’s con man film ‘The Duke’ on screen
related feature: George Sumner chats at the premiere of terminal illness film, ‘Kindling’
Here’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry trailer….