The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry author: 'We don't communicate with one another properly'

Watch: Rachel Joyce examines how Harold Fry reflects modern Britain

Rachel Joyce’s best-selling novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a quintessentially British story of caring and kindness across the country.

The book, which has now been turned into a film starring Jim Broadbent (in cinemas from 28 April), centres on a man who walks from Devon to Northumberland in hopes of saving his friend who has terminal cancer. Along the way, he meets an assortment of people from across the economic spectrum as they all offer a helping hand on his physically demanding journey.

For Joyce, that message is more important now than when she first wrote Harold Fry’s adventure over a decade ago.

“When you write something for the first time, there are sometimes themes and ideas that are coming from the unconscious, that you don't completely understand what they are, but you know they are right there,” Joyce, who has also written the film adaptation’s screenplay, tells Yahoo UK.

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“When you re-examine it for a screenplay, you really look at what you've got. I mean, it's really bad manners to quote from your own book, but [today] there's too much sense and we've got to think more about faith.

“Not in the sense of spiritual faith, but we’ve gotten so technical. We don't communicate with one another properly, we're not as connected with nature. These things all seem more pertinent now than [when I wrote the book] 12 years ago.

(left to right) Dame Penelope Wilton, Rachel Joyce, and Jim Broadbent, attends the gala screening of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, at the Ham Yard Hotel in London. Picture date: Tuesday April 18, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Moore/PA Images via Getty Images)
Dame Penelope Wilton, Rachel Joyce, and Jim Broadbent at the gala screening of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. (PA Images via Getty Images)

“I mean, even the idea of walking out without your mobile 12 years ago was not such a big deal as it is now. I feel that post-COVID, the story is more relevant, more heightened.”

Joyce adds that she was “amused” by a poster she saw recently on a train that reminded people to be kind to staff and shopping assistants. “It’s strange that we now have to have a poster telling us we've got to be kind. Couldn't we just do that one?”

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Broadbent, who plays Harold Fry, explains how the film shows kindness through his character. “As he starts walking, he's communicating and he's growing as he walks by sharing and inviting kindness and being kind to others, who he meets being generous.

“It's a whole revelation to him that there’s a world within him, which he didn't know existed.”

Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton star in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. (eOne)
Jim Broadbent in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. (eOne)

Asked whether we could do with a few more Harold Frys in the world, he replies: “Always yes, he's a kind man.”

His co-star, Penelope Wilton, who plays Fry’s wife, adds: “And there’s that self-realisation that we have in us more than just what is immediately obvious.”

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is in cinemas from 28 April. Watch a trailer below.