#FromPageToScreen – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Whenever a book becomes a best seller, you start to hear murmurings about adaptations whether for tv or the big screen. Some people love this and can’t wait to see their favourite stories and characters brought to life on screen. Other people hate it and want to keep their own ideas of how they envisage the characters. Sometimes an adaptation works really well, sometimes it’s not so well received. In this occasional series, I’m going to look at some books which I have read and see what I made of the adaptation. One thing I’m sure we can all agree on: the book is always better!

I bought The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry when it first came out and loved it. I’ve since read the other two books in the series, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennesey and Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North which tell the story from the viewpoints of Queenie, who Harold is walking to see in the first book and Maureen, his wife. I think that Rachel Joyce is a wonderful writer and she captures emotions so beautifully on the page in these three poignant books. I was very excited to find out that Harold Fry was going to be adapted for the cinema, especially when I saw who was playing the main characters.

About the book

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him – allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.

What did I think?

Well, my goodness what an emotional experience watching this film turned out to be. I knew there would be sad bits, as I remembered most of the gist of the story, but didn’t quite remember it being quite so emotional all the way through. There’s one particular scene with Maureen and her son David at the kitchen table which had me in bits. I’m welling up now just thinking about it. There were some lighter moments but I’d say it’s not a film for you if you’re feeling emotionally fragile.

I can’t imagine anyone other than Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton playing Harold and Maureen. I hadn’t realised that Linda Bassett was in it but she was the perfect choice as Queenie Hennessey. Queenie isn’t actually in the film much and I’m not sure that she even speaks in it. If a film is made of the second novel in the trilogy, I hope Linda Bassett reprises her role. The film is beautifully shot with some gorgeous scenes of the English countryside, even in the rain.

I’m glad I went to see the film but I’m not sure it’s one I’d watch again as I just found it so sad throughout. There were parts which other people laughed at that I found quite poignant, perhaps because I knew what was going to happen and was anticipating it. It’s not a film to watch if you want something cheerful and uplifting. However, it is a beautifully made adaptation. I definitely prefer the book though.

Where can you watch it?

The film has just come out in the cinema so, for now, you can head to your nearest cinema to watch it on the big screen.

Have you watched the adapted version? Have you read the book? Let me know what you think especially if you have both read the book and watched an adaptation. Did you think it was a good re-imagining of the book or did it spoil what you thought of the book?

7 thoughts on “#FromPageToScreen – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

  1. I’m not sure I’ll see it. Yes, there were some sad parts in the book, but I don’t remember it being sad throughout. Thanks for taking one for the team!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It came out last week here Davida so we went last Saturday. I don’t think it would ruin the book for you, it is a beautiful film. As I said though, it was just that it had that sadness throughout where I’d expected a wee bit more humour somehow.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read the book a while ago and enjoyed it. The film is on at our local community cinema so I could go and see it. I like the clip ‘but you usually only walk to the car’ ha ha.


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