Jim Broadbent as Harold Fry, accompanied by another walker wearing the same Pilgrim T-shirt.

I Would Walk Five Hundred Miles

Posted by Speakeasy News > Friday 02 June 2023 > What's On

Jim Broadbent was amazing in The Duke last year, playing a man who took a valuable painting ransom to try to obtain free TV licences for British pensioners. Now he’s back as an equally eccentric Englishman, Harold Fry, who leaves his house to send a letter to a friend he has heard is dying and ends up walking the 500 miles to her hospice.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a road movie but don’t expect fast cars and American deserts. Here the road is covered on foot and the landscape is the rolling hills of England. Harold Fry is totally unprepared for this journey. He doesn’t really seem to decide to go, it’s more that he is obeying an instinct and a belief that if he can get to her Queenie won’t die. His wife (the wonderful Penelope Wilton, Isobel Merton in Downton Abbey) is at a loss to understand his motives and on thinks he is having some kind of breakdown after his recent retirement. As Harold walks north, he encounters people willing to help him with food, a bed for the night or simply walking a few miles with him. But as he nears the end of the road be begins to doubt his belief that his pilgrimage will cure his friend.

The film is adapted from the bestselling novel by Rachel Joyce, who spent 20 years as a stage actor and has written many radio plays, including adaptations of all the Brontë sisters’ novels. Which perhaps explains the extraordinary sense of place in this novel (and its two sequels), which has been compared to Laurie Lee’s As I Stepped Out One Midsummer Morning.

Now in his mid-seventies, Jim Broadbent his has had a long career mainly as a supporting actor. He now seems to be flourishing in leading roles at an age when many others would think of retiring.

Jim Broadbent as Harold Fry in a shop holding a letter.

Harold’s pilgrimage from the south coast of Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed on the Scottish Border is approximately 500 miles, which seems as good an excuse as any for this soundtrack selection from Scottish band The Proclaimers.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
On general release 31 May 2023