The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

A film review capped off with a giveaway!

Film review of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, released in Australian cinemas on 8 June 2023 – 3 out of 5 stars

(Find out how you can win tickets to see the film at the end of the review …)

Untapped potential has been at the heart of stories throughout the history of cinema, novels and humanity. For some, discovering their life’s purpose may come early in their lives, while for others, it comes in the later seasons of their existence. Rachel Joyce’s novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry taps into this need through the title character, as he realises he must do something for his forgotten friend despite being advanced in years.

Harold Fry

Harold Fry (played by academy award winner Jim Broadbent) Transmission Films

Harold Fry (played by Jim Broadbent in the screen adaptation) lives an ordinary and quiet life in Devon, England, with his wife Maureen (Penelope Wilton) until their tranquility is interrupted by a letter from an old friend. Queenie (Linda Bassett) is a former work colleague who has been estranged from the couple for years, but she writes to share with them that she is dying of cancer in a hospice. Initially, Harold chooses to write his friend a letter, but then he is unexpectedly inspired by a petrol station attendant to give Queenie hope by believing she can survive. As the simple man steps out of the station, this action starts his journey on foot to Berwick-upon-Tweed, a 600-mile trek to northern England. This leads to an exploration of his past, present and future, as one who begins to see the value of doing something with his 65 years of life, despite his past mistakes.

This faith journey stands out because it shows how the simplest incidents can lead to life-changing events. Admittedly, Harold Fry’s story is fictitious and could be dismissed and categorised as a mere fairytale. But this would be unfortunate. Rachel Joyce digs into the inexplicable nature of the spiritual realm and how this connects us all to the human experience. The personal odyssey of her central character shows us all how we are meant for something more than ordinary life. Also, when people take that step of faith, many may be inspired by this response to living. Granted, Joyce’s solutions lead to unfulfilling answers about the purposes of life, but the story opens the door to considerations and may lead the reader/viewer to better conclusions.

At the heart of this pilgrimage, Jim Broadbent (who also starred in the 2020 film The Duke) convincingly travels through all the layers of emotional and physical challenges. His performance shows how experiences like this lead to a person’s awakening and how other people factor into this transformation. Penelope Wilton (who also plays Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey) supports his portrayal subtly, yet brilliantly, as his long-suffering wife. Both actors manage to capture the essence of this couple as they fight their way through these necessary changes within their relationship and the healing it provides for them.

Maureen Fry

Maureen Fry (played by Penelope Wilton) Transmission Films

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is confronting, challenging and may leave many viewers perplexed by its less-than-resolute ending. Yet, this story should leave people asking themselves what they can do with the life they have been given and considering the purpose behind their choices.

Reel Dialogue: Life’s purpose

The search for purpose and meaning is unique to the human condition. Yet for many, the words of Solomon can ring true when it comes to life and purpose: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Rachel Joyce’s novel approach to finding purpose screams from the deeper recesses of this short passage in Ecclesiastes by digging into humanity’s questions about our goals in this existence.

Similar to the words of Solomon, this film thrusts the door open wide to the consideration of where purpose and solace can be found. But if you read the other writings in the Bible, you would find that God created each person to be an active player in his creation and to live an abundant life, filled with purpose.

Now that has some meaning!

Russ Matthews works for City Bible Forum as the Product Manager for The Edge and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and getting conversations started on themes from these visual creations. This review first appeared on Third Space and is republished with permission.

For your chance to win a double pass to see The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, courtesy of Movies Change People (Heritage Films), click here