Ethel & Ernest
dir-scr Roger Mainwood
prd Camilla Deakin, Ruth Fielding
voices Jim Broadbent, Brenda Blethyn, Luke Treadaway, Pam Ferris, Roger Allam, Peter Wight, Virginia McKenna, Karyn Claydon, Simon Day, June Brown, Gillian Hanna, Harry Collett
release UK 28.Oct.16
16/UK BBC 1h34
Ethel & Ernest
The good life: Ernest and Ethel

broadbent blethyn treadaway
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Ethel & Ernest A collection of gentle slice-of-life anecdotes, this is a warm account of 20th century life as a son retraces his parents relationship. Raymond Briggs told their story through drawings in his graphic novel, and now those scenes have been adapted into a movie with refreshing pen-and-ink style animation and a gently involving narrative free of gimmicks.

Lady's maid Ethel (Blethyn) meets Ernest (Broadbent) in 1926 London, joyfully building a working class life together. A new home and a new job for Ernest as a milkman are followed by baby Raymond (Treadaway). When he's 5, the Nazi threat sees him evacuated to Dorset, followed by the harrowing German bombing of the city. Later, Raymond surpasses his parents' education levels by going to art college. But Raymond's wife Jean (Claydon) has mental health issues, meaning that his parents will never be grandparents.

There's something profoundly uplifting about watching a movie about unremarkable people. Ethel and Ernest had a quiet life that never seemed to make much impact (other than of course their gifted son). Their experiences never boil over into melodrama, even though they could. A chance of an extramarital affair, clashing political views, tenaciously riding out the Blitz, constantly trying to get their son to comb his hair - these are understated truths that most movies build into something outrageous. But here they're just part of a couple's life together.

The voice work by Blethyn and Broadbent is equally unobtrusive, adding a spark of humour in the off-handed gags that punctuate each scene and providing a touch of emotion exactly when it's needed. Meanwhile, the animation maintains a hand-drawn style that's detailed enough to be surprising but never so flashy that it draws attention to itself (except in some big sequences involving falling bombs). Scenes are packed with touches that constantly reveal new angles on both the characters and the settings.

This is the kind of small movie that's really worth seeing on the big screen if possible, simply because of the over-sized images and the power of sharing the experience with an audience. In many ways, this feels like a depiction of the life we all lead, even if we didn't live in Britain right through the 20th century. Watching Ethel and Ernest react to the news headlines is fascinating, from Hitler's rise to the decriminalisation of homosexuality to the first man on the moon. It's a life all of us can identify with, because it's where we all come from.

cert pg themes, some violence 3.Oct.16 lff

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall