VOD film review: Ethel & Ernest
James R | On 28, Dec 2016
Director: Roger Mainwood
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Brenda Blethyn, Luke Treadaway
Watch Ethel & Ernest online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
The name Raymond Briggs needs no introduction. What about his parents, Ethel & Ernest? In a way, they don’t either – as this animation adapted from his picture book of the same name proves, they’re like many British couples. Rather than tell the story of some dramatic divorce or bitter custody battle, Ethel & Ernest portrays 40 odd years of a happy, stable marriage. It’s uncomplicated, effective and completely charming.
We see our couple meet way back in the 1920s, when he’s cycling past the window of the house where she’s working as a maid. A trip to the pictures later and they begin dating – and continue to stay together right through the war. The result is a valuable document of British history, as we witness major events pass by – but it’s the personal reactions, the ripples that play out on an intimate scale, that make this so special.
The balance between big politics and small emotion (Ethel’s a Tory, Ernest a staunch labour) is carried out seamlessly, from their bickering about workers’ rights and the founding of the NHS to their sheltering under the kitchen table from air raids. Throughout, the idiosyncratic animation brings Briggs’ illustrations to life in a remarkably faithful way, creating stunning compositions from his simple style, while Carl Davis’ score swoons and sighs with heartwarming ease. The result is a beautiful portrayal of love and loyalty that feels reassuringly real; it’s impossible not to identify with their day-to-day ups and downs. Something happy happens. “Oh, Ernest!” Ethel cries. Then something sad happens. “Oh, Ernest,” Ethel sighs. And so it continues for 90 minutes. There’s even a new Paul McCartney song to go with it.