Go ahead. Leave everything familiar behind. People carry this longing within themselves, and as a decelerated road movie, the pilgrimage film has already developed into its own subgenre in the cinema.
Hape Kerkeling said “I’ll be off then”. His travel memories from the Way of St. James were a bestseller, and the film adaptation was a huge success in 2015. Martin Sheen set out on the same pilgrimage path in “Your Path” (2010) as a grieving father in search of his lost son. With a huge backpack and bad memories, Reese Witherspoon hiked along the American Pacific coast in “The Big Trip – Wild” (2014).
The title character in Hettie Macdonald’s bestselling film adaptation “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” initially seems to go on a journey by chance. Harold (Jim Broadbent) and his wife Maureen (Penelope Wilton) are leading an uneventful retirement life in the English coastal town of Devon when a letter from a former colleague lands on the breakfast table. Queenie (Linda Bassett) is seriously ill with cancer, is in a hospice and says goodbye to Harold.
A man wants to give courage and hope
Visibly touched but unable to put his feelings into words, he writes her a three-line letter. Then he comes up with the idea of delivering the letter himself to Berwick-upon-Tweed, more than 500 miles away. And on foot.
Harold is inspired by the idea of giving his old friend new courage and hope with his hike. Wife Maureen, on the other hand, reacts to her husband’s antics with the greatest possible incomprehension. Scared, abandoned and bitter, she tries to control her anger at home with the vacuum cleaner in her hand.
At the end, the pilgrim is joined by a group of fans
Harold’s encounters on the way are varied: a Slovenian doctor (Monika Gossmann) bandages his damaged feet, an older gay man confesses his passions to him in a fast food restaurant and towards the end even a small fan community joins the hiker. But the closer Harold gets to his goal, the more clearly he feels that with this journey he not only wants to save Queenie, but also himself.
Only British cinema can make feel-good films like this
“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” is a melancholic, feel-good film that only British cinema can achieve. Finely balanced, director Macdonald occasionally sails hard on the borderline of kitsch, sets spiritual accents with poetic landscape shots, and finally sails into the harbor of catharsis with her main character.
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Jim Broadbent (“Another Year”) is ideally cast as a seemingly naive old wanderer who takes in the world anew and has to face his own demons. But with the traumatic experiences it is the same as with the blisters on the feet: They heal within a few minutes of the film so as not to endanger the well-being of the audience.
“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,” Director: Hettie Macdonald with Jim Broadbent, Penelope Wilton, 108 minutes, FSK 12