The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry team on 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, 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.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is in cinemas from 28 April.

Video transcript

JACK SHEPERD: You wrote the book and it came out 10 years ago or so?


JACK SHEPERD: And it feels like the themes of kindness, and caring, faith-- they feel more relevant now than maybe ever, especially post-COVID. Is that a surprising revelation or do you think those themes are just timeless in themselves?

RACHEL JOYCE: Oh, I love this question because I was thinking about it only today. I think-- when I wrote the book-- and it was actually, sort of, 12 years ago I was writing it-- when you write something for the first time, there are sometimes themes and ideas that I would say are coming from the unconscious, that you don't completely understand what they are but you know that they're right there heading in some, kind of, direction with the argument.

But when you reexamine it for a screenplay, you really look at what you've got and those themes about-- I mean, it's really bad manners to quote from your own book, but things like, you know, if we-- if-- there's too much sense and we've got to think more about faith-- not in the sense of, sort of, spiritual faith but, you know, what are we-- what have we-- we've got so technical and we don't kind of communicate with one another properly, you know? We're not as connected with nature. These things all seem more pertinent now than they did 12 years ago. I mean, even the mobile-- kind of, walking out without your mobile 12 years ago was not such a big deal, I think, as it is now. So in a way, I feel that post-COVID, it's actually become more-- the story is more relevant and more heightened.

JIM BROADBENT: In Harold's journey, I think, he-- having been very closed off-- soon into his journey he meets people and he immediately tells them, oh, yes, I'm going to visit a friend, she's dying of cancer in Northumberland, and I'm going to walk. He's sharing immediately-- as he gets walking, and immediately start sharing with complete strangers what he's up to even before he's got to the first shop he reaches when he goes to get a pint of milk. That's to say he's already communicating, which he hasn't-- clearly hasn't been communicating with his wife for years. But he's-- as soon as he starts walking he's communicating and he's growing as he walks. There's a world within him which he didn't know existed really.

PENELOPE WILTON: She's led by him actually. At first she can't-- she can't take it on board. She has to have her things around her. She can't let go. And then she slowly realizes that she will have to let go. And once she starts, she won't stop.