Film Review: Ethel and Ernest @ Chapter

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Ethel and Ernest


Director: Roger Mainwood

Not everyone could tell of their parents stories…and in all fairness, not everyone should tell of their parents stories.

Artist Raymond Briggs has done just that in first his graphic novel and now feature film. Ethel and Ernest Briggs have nothing really remarkable about them. They were normal people, living normal lives. It is the time that they lived that was so noteworthy; the stories are so familiar and so personal that we can all easily identify with them. How many viewers will say they are so much like their grandparents? He a milkman and she a maid, they pass by each other everyday, leading to romance, a wedding and finally a child called Raymond (funnily enough).  His rites of passages and both Ernest & Ethels deaths all feature.

The animation is starkly traditional. Pleasant, yet nothing really leaps out or makes you gasp. We’re all familiar with Briggs work in The Snowman and to a lesser extent, When the Wind Blows, the ‘sketchy’ style is now perhaps a bit boring and flat. The characters faces glow with cheery red, certain items glow on the screen and the cityscapes are heavily detailed. It’s very much a piece of its time and feels a lot like a checklist to all historical events in the 30s to 60s: Hitler’s rise to power, WWII declared, the Blitz, rationing, Labour winning the postwar election, legalisation of homosexuality, the moon landing. You name it, it’s most likely mentioned in passing within this film.

It can be a soupy film, in attempts to over romanticise the parents relationship. There is a curious dynamic seen in both Ethel and Ernest (voiced by Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent): she a shrewd, middle class girl and him a working class, Labour loving milkman. This class clash frequently reminds of us the “opposites attract” mentality seen in numerous films.

Plenty of hanky moments as Raymond as a young boy is sent off to the West Country to escape the war, both parents dying in 1971 within a few months of one another. The shock of seeing Ethel dead is a jolting experience, clashing with the refined hand drawn style of the film.

There is humour and teary moments, but somehow this animation remains as everyday as the subjects it questions.

Rating: 3 stars.


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