Film review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry starring Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a new movie starring Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton out now.

Don’t be put off by ‘pilgrimage’, our hero is not religious at all, although my neighbour at the cinema certainly was. ‘Are you a Pilgrim?’ she asked straight out. She did Canterbury last year and St Jean de Compostelle is next. I hike once a year? If there’s a pub at the end.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry movie poster

There’s a documentary feel to the opening shots portraying Mr Fry’s daily life, before the Long March. His marriage is a frozen, silent wasteland of curtain-twitching and excess hoovering. Are they stale or passive aggressive?

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One of those tasteless-odourless Englishmen, he does love, but is incapable of expressing it in  ways that make his entourage feel loved. He’s been brought up to repress all emotions and he does it with flying colours, as a husband, father and friend. ‘I’m in love with my wife’ he says with conviction to a bystander who suspects (we all do) he’s having a nostagia spasm for an old girlfriend , while the wife admits ‘This hasn’t been a marriage for 25 years.’ So what happened 25 years ago?

Mr Fry’s impromptu journey on foot across England to visit a dying friend is madcap and you do wonder, if it’s not the Calling and it’s not Romance, then what?  ‘I have failed everyone…’ he realises, as flashbacks show his former self repeatedly standing inert and useless, instead of showing empathy. It’s about him finding the courage to reconnect with his feelings and express them in ways that touch others. It’s a purge and it’s painful to watch.

The old friend’s connection becomes clear in snippets, and his guilt. But it is not selective;  sudden intrusive video-replays of other horrors in his past leave him wincing and winded with agony, suggesting untreated PTSD.   He’s making amends with this walk, initially with his friend  ‘If I keep walking, she’ll keep living.’ Because letting her know that he wants her to go on living will make her feel like staying alive. His transformation then extends to his wife.  This is his Awakening.

Does Friend stay alive long enough to see him? Go see.

I have Travelzoo to thank for my evening and specifically, James Clarke, their General Manager UK, who explained their USP to me thus:

‘I believe Travelzoo’s USP is the way we communicate to our members and the level of trust we have built with those members. We research and validate every deal and put huge effort in ensuring we only share and very best leisure and deal content. We research, curate, and deliver deals in a digestible way that allows our members to build trust in Travelzoo. Our members-first mindset is underpinned from the bottom to the very top of our business.’

Travelzoo collaborated with the film company to promote Harold Fry by offering value-for-money away-breaks to locations along the ‘pilgrimage’ route. The interests of both sides dovetailed well and enabled the film company to offer this balloted showing of the film to Travelzoo members, with 2.5k applicants for 140 tickets! In future Travelzoo plans to work alongside other film-makers and is always on the look-out for great films which encompass adventure, travel and an uplifting storyline.

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