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May 15, 2023

Broadbent is a WONDER!

An INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL Film. Broadbent is a WONDER... and Wilton equals him.One of those rare instances where the film is better than the book.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is an excellent adaptation of Rachel Joyce’s bestselling novel (2012) about a retired old fella who traverses England on foot in the belief he can save a friend dying of cancer ... it is wonderfully tender and full of feeling. I cried, possibly twice, but I don‘t think it was three times, whatever anyone might say.

Broadbent is a wonder, so real and sincere it doesn’t feel like acting, and Wilton equals him.

Broadbent plays Harold while his wife, Maureen, is played by Penelope Wilton, who is also inevitable casting of the kind that’s ideal. Harold and Maureen live in suburban Devon with net curtains and unironic china dogs and the peach carpets she seems to vacuum daily (a Miele; wise choice).

Then, one morning, Harold receives a letter from his old workmate, Queenie (Linda Bassett). She’s in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed and is saying goodbye. He writes a postcard in reply, walks to one postbox, then the next, then decides to keep on walking, he doesn’t know why. As long as he keeps walking, Queenie will live, he thinks. He’ll save her, although, of course, he is actually saving himself, even if it’s not something he could ever consciously recognise.

He is ill-equipped. It’s a distance of about 600 miles and he has no map or phone and his shoes are flimsy. You may well break out in sympathy blisters. He calls Maureen from public phone boxes. She has a sharp tongue, can’t help herself. ‘You never walk. The only time you walk is to the car… have you been drinking?’ Released from his own passivity, Harold is waking up to life. He approaches a farmhouse for a glass of water. ‘I had no idea water was so nice,’ he says as he gulps it down.

He meets people on his journey. Some affect him. He affects others. With faith and redemption as its themes, there may be a religious aspect. He attracts fellow pilgrims while a Slovakian woman washes his battered feet.

The one thing that’s certain is that this is an incredibly beautiful film to look at. Woods and streams and fields and plump blackberries are gorgeously photographed. It makes you long to visit England even though you live here. Harold is a man in turmoil – why wasn’t he a less timid father to his son? – and one of the problems with book adaptations is: how do you show that internal world? Macdonald directs with precision and flair and also an eye for reflecting Harold’s state of mind in the weather.

Broadbent is a wonder, so real and sincere it doesn’t feel like acting. He can do in a single reaction shot what might otherwise take 20 script pages, and Wilton equals him. As I can’t recall being that charmed by the novel, this may even be one of those rare instances where the film is better than the book.

Deborah Ross

Original article - The Spectator.

THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY is in Cinemas across Australia June 8.

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