Saturday, 1 April 2017

World Cinema: United Kingdom - "Ethel and Ernest" (2016) Film Review

Fig 1

Roger Mainwood’s adaptation of the successful book by English illustrator and author Raymond Brigg’s “Ethel and Ernest” (2016) tells the story of Brigg’s mother and fathers life upon meeting each other, until both of their deaths in 1975. 

The tribute to Brigg’s parents is shown in the form of a charming, light colour book-style animation, with a distinct style of illustration throughout to show the heart-warming, and eventually, tear jerking story.  As Peter Bradshaw also explains: “Raymond Briggs’s graphic-novel tribute to his parents Ethel and Ernest, and their long, happy marriage has been lovingly turned into a feature animation that exactly reproduces the detail and the simplicity of his hand-drawn style.” (Bradshaw, 2016) 

Raymond Brigg’s is probably most known for his popular story called “The Snowman” (1978) which was then adapted into a film in 1982, and has since been shown on most Christmases.
The story starts in 1920’s England, and the set up makes for a very British story that is nostalgic; such as the outfits the character’s wear, the accents and voice work and the environments and historical buildings. 

Fig 2

Ethel was a hard-working maid, and Ernest, a cheerful milkman who had an interest in politics. They meet as Ethel waves a cloth outside a window, which Ernest thinks she is waving at him, and so he waves back. This continues for a few days, until Ernest arrives at the door to ask Ethel out. From there, Ethel leaves her job as a maid and the two later marry, buy a beautiful house, and have a son. The first half an hour of the film is presented in a sweet manner, with bright happy colours, and successfully shows the blooming of the two characters’ relationship. Ethel is shown to be more opinionated and stern, however, the best is brought out of her by the optimistic Ernest. Some of their contrasts in personality are drizzled throughout the film, as Anna Smith describes: “The contrasts between them are good for a few laughs as the film drops in on their life during times of national crisis: as he strains to hear the wireless, she chides him to switch it off, busying herself with domestic matters. There are gender and class stereotypes here, but they’re tempered by the huge affection with which Briggs depicts his parents.” (Smith, 2016) 

Fig 3

Ernest commonly listens to the radio, and once World War II is announced, the story takes a sadder turn. The couple have to send 5-year-old Raymond to live in the countryside with relatives to be safe from the war, which leaves Ethel in distress for her little boy. The couples house is destroyed amidst the war, and Ernest, who had become a fireman now, had become traumatised from seeing the deaths of people around him. 

The film then introduces the problem with Ethel; she is becoming more noticeably zoned-out and starts to forget things, and the film slips into the later lives of Ethel and Ernest. Ernest remains loving and caring to his wife, while Raymond, who has a fiancée and attended Art College, visit her. Tim Roby explains: “The slide into old age (and dementia, in Ethel’s case) happens without foreshadowing, and before you’re ready for it, like an hourglass jolted and suddenly unclogged. By his mum’s bedside, a sad-eyed Raymond can only summon a quintessentially British brand of small talk: “The A23 was a bit choked up?”. (Roby, 2016)
The then colourful environments and colours then change into more muddy and earthy colours, and in a way subtly shows the nearing of the end of Ethel and Ernest’s life; their candles are dimming over the course of their years of life. 

Fig 4

 A heart-breaking scene shows Ethel asking Raymond, “who was that old man who was in here just now”? Raymond explains that he was her husband, and so Ethel’s dementia is at a critical stage, and before long, she passes away. Father and son comfort each other at the sight of her body, something which would make the viewer upset having seen the beautiful start to the film, but highlights the debilitating disease. 

Ernest then lives on in his home; however, his time comes to an end in the same year that Ethel passes, and the end scene shows Raymond and Jean sitting by their father. Tim Roby states: "Briggs honoured his parents by playing up their chirpy stoicism, but theirs was a generation of vast change, which we wtiness overtaking them without their full understanding. The backdrop to this very English marriage - soot and grit survival, and that basenote of touching bafflement - means all the tears are earned." (Roby, 2016) 

A bittersweet ending, “Ethel and Ernest” is an insight to the journey of life, and in truth makes the viewer realise that we are all on the path to growing older, but our loved ones give us strength, and the memories created along the way will last forever. 


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