The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Tagline : Hope is a journey.

Runtime : 108 mins

Genre : Drama

Vote Rating : 6.6/10


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Plot : Harold Fry is an unremarkable man who has made mistakes with all the important things: being a husband, a father and a friend. And now, well into his 60s, he is content to fade quietly into the background of life. Until, one day – Harold learns his old friend Queenie is dying. Harold leaves home, walking to his post office to send her a letter. And out of the blue, Harold decides to keep walking, all the way to her hospice, 450 miles away.

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"Harold" (Jim Broadbent) is having breakfast with his wife "Maureen" (Dame Penelope Wilton) when he opens a letter. It turns out to be from a colleague from the brewery in which he worked and it mentions that she is in an hospice, terminally ill with cancer. He pens the briefest of replies and sets off to post the letter. En route, he pops into the local garage for a pint of milk and encounters a young girl with blue hair (Nina Singh) who urges him not to lose hope. Her words have quite an effect. He decides to post his letter in the next post box, then the next. The next thing we know he in on a trek some 450-odd miles from their home in Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed. That's about as far as he can actually walk without entering Scotland! Along the way he encounters some interesting characters whilst fighting a bit of a rear guard action with his bewildered wife at home (via the phone) and we are also, gradually, introduced to flashbacks illustrating the tragedy both went through with their own increasingly wayward son "David" (Earl Cave). This is a powerful tour-de-force from Broadbent. As the journey develops, his character exudes a gritty determination alongside an humanity that is touching and engaging. Dame Penelope really only features sparingly, almost like a steam valve to let us all take a breather from the intensity of the march - and that works to a certain extent, but unfortunately I found the substance of the story a bit lacking. It works better when it is just him, but as he meets and attracts hangers-on, then melodrama creeps in and increasingly diverts the theme into a rather disappointing vein of stereotype and hippiedom. There is also an implausible degree of serendipity to bits of this - as illustrated by his encounters with "Martina" (Monika Gossmann) and a cancer surgeon in a tea room. Still, I bet he hadn't met too many men who liked to lick their younger boyfriend's leaky trainers - and that, amongst other scenes, does inject a degree of humour (and an opportunity for this actor to use his hugely expressive face) to this travelogue with a difference. It felt long, not as long as his walk, but it could have maybe lost twenty minutes to keep it from meandering. There is some lovely, scenic, photography to enjoy which makes a cinema screening preferable, but it will do equally well on the telly. Characterful certainly but just a bit, well, plodding.

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