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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2023) Review

This is a review for the 2023 movie “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. Starring Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton, this dramatic tear-jerker takes us on an emotional journey across Britain.

What is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry about?

The titular Harold Fry (Broadbent) receives a letter from an old work colleague. She is preparing to die in a hospice and is bidding him farewell. Harold, seeking forgiveness from his old friend, is inspired to walk from Devon to the northern most point of England – in a bid to give his old colleague hope. What follows is a long journey with many highs and lows. As he journeys, Harold reminisces on his past – as it becomes clear exactly what he is seeking forgiveness from the universe about.

As Harold journeys, his wife Maureen (Wilton) waits at home. After twenty-five years of an unhappy marriage, she starts to resent Harold’s journey and the fame that comes his way, as a result of it. As Harold marches on in hope, we witness the bitter loneliness of the world he is leaving behind – and the people he’s leaving in it.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2023) Review

This movie made me cry multiple times. That’s not necessarily the sign of a good movie, but it does mean that some parts of it definitely worked. For me, I found the script a bit silly at times – but Broadbent and Wilton navigated it masterfully. An effectively manipulative score to back them up helps, too. This movie is at its absolute strongest when it allows itself to be soppy. The absolute peaks of the film are when Harold is on the verge of giving up, only to be given some reason to keep fighting on. It would’ve been extremely cheesy, but I would’ve eaten 90 minutes of that up.

The problem is that this movie really meanders (get it?). It tries to do an awful lot and introduces us to a lot of characters, none of which we spend enough time with to get interested in. Even the characters that we do get some time with disappear without any real lasting impact. The most grating part of this, which had me stifling laughter, was when his newfound stray dog decides to just hop on a bus and leave him. To which Harold just sort of shrugs off. So much for a dog’s loyalty.


I mentioned Maureen earlier, but I want to talk about her story again. The decision to tell her story alongside Harold’s is inspired. Penelope Wilton is arguably the star of the show. She draws sympathy for a character who could easily be seen as just an obstacle for our hero. Maureen is not a horrible, stifling wife; she’s a woman who has been broken by circumstance. At times, she’s right – she is the victim of this story. It’s not fair that Harold is abandoning her so that he can seek his forgiveness. However, we also understand exactly why Harold needs to be doing what he’s doing.

The Son

I won’t spoil anything, but the trailers suggest Harold has a son who he’s no longer in contact with. The handling of this is messy, and I wasn’t as emotionally invested as the movie hoped. Towards the end, there’s a particularly upsetting shot. It feels unnecessary, as it was blatant what was happening even before it. The film rating warns of suicide, so please take heed if you’re sensitive to the topic.

The Ending

The trailers for this film made it seem like it was going to be a very uplifting affair. While I won’t spoil the ending, it is quite bittersweet. I didn’t leave this movie empowered to go and walk across the country. Nor did I leave it believing that faith (of the non-religious kind) is enough to achieve miracles. Truthfully, I’m not too sure what I took away from this movie.

I enjoyed the film, it just felt a bit messy on the messaging. It was trying to do too much and I think if it had slowed down at points – it would’ve been a lot stronger for it.

Is the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry based on a true story?

No, the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is not based on a true story. It is, however, based on a 2012 fictional book by Rachel Joyce. Joyce has said, previously, that she was inspired to write the book after meeting a man who was walking across England to raise money for charity.

Similar stories in real life

Nevertheless, there are plenty of real-life stories which follow similar themes.

In her memoir “Wild”, Cheryl Strayed recounts her 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Like Harold Fry, Strayed embarked on this journey as a way to deal with personal loss and grief. She went on the hike in an attempt to find a transformative experience that would help her overcome the death of her mother and the subsequent divorce from her husband of six years. Her journey led to the previously mentioned memoir and a successful film, of the same name.

Will there be a sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry?

If this movie is a success, we could also see an adaptation of Joyce’s follow-up book “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy”. It would make for a very different movie, as there is no epic adventure across the country – but the continuation of the story is there for the taking, if the demand is there for it.

Who should watch this movie?

I think it’s safe to say that this movie is aimed at an older audience. I was given a trailer for a Take That musical in the cinema, so make of that what you will. This movie will go down well with that crowd. Equally, if you enjoy movies that make you cry – this movie does an excellent job.

If you’re looking for something uplifting, don’t be fooled. This isn’t a happy movie.

This was a review for the 2023 movie “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. Did you enjoy this movie or did it make you want to walk 500 miles in the opposite direction? Let us know in the comments below.

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