STARS Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton join writer Rachel Joyce from Stroud to tell Rachael Davis about emotional film The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

The movie - which was partly filmed in the Stroud area - was released in cinemas last Friday, with the Vue in Stroud currently showing it several times a day. 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, adapted from Rachel Joyce’s 2012 novel of the same name, tells the charming story of Harold’s journey – which is equal parts heart-warming and heart-wrenching – with Oscar, BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Jim Broadbent in the titular role.

“I liked Harold’s journey, really,” says Broadbent, 73, of taking on the role.

Stroud News and Journal:

“And the fact that he wakes up one morning in his rather quiet, unexciting life – probably rather sad life, probably very sad life… he’s in this marriage with Maureen, and he’s not communicating with her, and they’re having no fun, no joy in their life, and he gets this letter out of the blue and he completely acts against all his preconceived natures of how he would behave.

“And he just starts walking.

“I thought: that’s a really exciting decision, and to pursue that acting-wise is going to be fun.”

Writer Rachel Joyce, who wrote the screenplay from her novel, said: “Jim is the perfect Harold. He always was, right from the beginning”.

Broadbent had listened to the audiobook of Joyce’s novel, which she says he did “so tenderly”.

“I just thought well, I mean, you’re Harold, you’re clearly Harold, so there was never any question,” she adds of the casting decision.

Left at home while Harold walks the length of England is his wife Maureen, played in the film by Downton Abbey and Doctor Who’s Dame Penelope Wilton.

She’s angry, hurt, lonely and distraught, and becomes forced to break out of her self-imposed net curtain prison to seek help from her neighbours and community as she worries about the whereabouts of her husband.

“I think it has an enormous amount to say about relationships and the communities we forge ourselves, and the communities which are forged about us,” says Wilton, 76, of the film.

“I mean, Maureen in this film becomes – suddenly, because she’s forced to – great friends with her neighbour Rex across the way, and out of that comes a very strong friendship… Out of desperation, she’s forced to make some sort of communication with somebody, because we are animals of wanting to be together, and we’re gregarious.”

This theme of community was at the forefront of Rachel Joyce’s mind as she adapted her novel to the film’s screenplay, which she largely worked on during the Covid lockdown.

“I think after lockdown, we’re all still emerging… I think for a little while, we had slightly forgotten how to relate to one another,” says Joyce.

“Still, I feel there’s a sort of reticence, but also that we became slightly distrustful of what we don’t know… anything that didn’t feel the same. And the film is so much about going out, and trying to understand other people’s burdens that they’re carrying.

“We can walk past somebody in the street, and you just would have no idea of the thing that they were carrying, and Harold in his journey, just gradually, bit by bit, you see him opening up.”

Broadbent says he felt particularly connected to Harold’s journey because he, along with the film’s crew, physically completed it during filming.