A journey of hope and connection: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Jun 08, 2023
Meet Harold Fry, a man who has spent his life on the sidelines making the decision to do something remarkable. Source: Supplied.

A letter and 450 miles. 

That’s all it takes to turn one unremarkable man’s life into a truly remarkable tale of self-discovery, redemption, and hope. 

Harold Fry is an ordinary man who has lived his life on the sidelines, resulting in an uneventful retirement and a silent marriage with his wife Maureen, haunted by the absence of their missing son.

Content with fading into the background, Harold’s life takes an unexpected turn when he receives a letter from Queenie, an old friend in hospice care 450 miles away.

With a newfound purpose, Harold walks to the post office to send his reply to his dying friend but soon realises that his journey has only just begun. 

Suddenly one ordinary life meets an extraordinary journey as Harold embarks on a 450-mile pilgrimage on foot with just the clothes on his back, resulting in a journey of hope, self-reflection and faith in human connection for both viewers and characters alike. 

Set in the enchanting English countryside, British actors Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton tie Harold’s tale to our hearts through each step. 

Speaking with Starts at 60, Broadbent said Harold’s journey is one of inspiration, showing there can be extraordinary in the ordinary. 

Can you talk about how Harold’s journey that inspires so many other people along the way?

So, on Harold’s journey, many of the people he meets reflect on their own lives because he’s such an ordinary man and doing this extraordinary thing, that I think it… draws an awful lot out of the people he meets, and they appreciate him and admire him, and they reflect on their own lives. I think that is, in a way, the core of the book, hope and trust and humanity and the love that Harold is demonstrating with his long walk that affects people and affects the reader and hopefully the viewer of the film.

Can you tell us a little bit about how Harold changes along the journey?

I think it’s really interesting just watching how he starts off down there in Devon and he’s a completely different man by the time he gets to Berwick. But we see this very interesting character arc take place. I mean, it is 450 miles he walks. And it’s quite interesting that he wears the same clothes throughout the journey. On the surface, he is the same guy. He’s Harold Fry with his beige raincoat and his deck shoes and his shirt and tie. But the transformation with him, he becomes far more relaxed and less uptight, and he becomes somebody you really wouldn’t recognize. And when Maureen comes and finds him later on in the story, she doesn’t recognize him. It’s not in a negative way, I mean, but he has changed. He’s changed a lot with all the people he’s met and what he’s got from them and the fact of his actually being on a pilgrimage. I’ve never actually been a pilgrim, but there is something that you give of yourself in being a pilgrim.

You must get hundreds of scripts passing across your desk, but what was it about this particular story that spoke to you as an actor?

It’s a lovely story. I mean, it’s a surprising and intriguing story. And I love the fact that he appears to be absolutely ordinary man, but then he is having an extraordinary journey. And I think that conflict between those two elements is really what drew me to it. Everything you see is not as it is necessarily. All is not quite as obvious as you think it is. I think for those reasons really… because you can identify with him because he’s unremarkable and he’s not a hero, superhero of any sort. You just think, oh I know this guy and it’s beautifully written so you think, oh yes, let’s follow his story because I recognise him. I think really and want to find out why he is doing this ridiculous journey really walking to Berwick-upon-Tweed from Devon. So it’s intriguing really.

So, can you set up the relationship between Harold and Maureen?

Harold and Maureen have obviously been married for donkey’s years and their relationship has rather become rather static and probably sterile in a way and unhappy between them. But they move into a sort of pattern of non-communicative behaviour where they both seem to be going through the motions of a marriage. And throughout the story of the film and the story of the book, the reasons for their rather unhappy marriage become clear. And the journey that he goes on and then Maureen goes on as well actually brings them together and they find their original love for each other is rekindled. And it is a beautiful relationship in the end.

Can I ask you to set up the relationship between Harold and Queenie?

Queenie, who is the object of Harold’s journey, is an ex-colleague of his. He worked for a brewery, and she was on the clerical staff of this brewery as well and at some point, in the working relationship, something happened that meant that she had to leave and they lost touch completely but there was obviously a very strong connection when they were working together. So, when Harold gets this letter from Queenie, that she’s not well, and he feels a need to go and show his support and sympathy.

When audiences sit down in cinemas and they watch this movie, what sort of journey are you sending them on?

I think they’re going on a surprising journey, and I think it’ll take them in many different directions, even though it is a journey from Devon to Northumberland, I think there’s an awful lot of different journeys within that.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is out in cinemas now.

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