Ethel & Ernest full movie review - A sublime and moving ode to ordinary people's lives
What a wonderful thing Raymond Briggs has done. This magnificent, sensitive and funny animated film about the lives of his parents Ethel and Ernest is a triumph.
It surpasses even his famous THE SNOWMAN (1982) and, I daresay, is what he will truly be remembered for. In this age in which we live at present, when the ordinary people are rising up in revolt against their snotty and arrogant politicians, in what the elites patronisingly call 'populism' (and what is wrong with the populus, then, that it should become a term of derision?), we have here the perfect paean to real life, to real people, to real hopes and to real dreams. With his subtle and loving humour, which pervades the entire film, Briggs brings to life his parents in the most intimate possible manner. He allows us to chuckle at their foibles, without ever once looking down upon their numerous limitations. The story starts in 1928 when his parents meet. Ethel is a lady's maid who waves at the jolly young man who rides past her window every day. Before long, he turns up with flowers and asks her to go to 'the pictures' with him. And soon enough they are married. But time goes by and they do not seem able to have a baby, and Ethel cries and says she is getting too old. But Fate intervenes, and Raymond is born, though the doctor warns Ernest they must not have any more, as 'it was hit and miss' and 'more children means no wife'. So they settle for the one child. We are taken through the whole of the period between 1928 and 1971 as seen through the eyes of Ethel and Ernest. Ernest reads the paper every day eagerly, and is always saying things like: 'Crikey! Hitler's just invaded Russia!' and reacting to world events in the kitchen. Ethel pays little attention and does not much grasp the significance of things. For instance, when told that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor are going to meet with Hitler, her reaction is 'He can't be too bad then.' Raymond does not hesitate to make fun of himself, mocking his own affectations as an art student and his refusal to comb his hair. Every day domesticity is elevated to the status of a mythology in this film, and Alan Bennett's eye for the details of daily life is actually surpassed here, which I would not have thought possible. This film is really a love poem by Raymond Briggs to his parents, whose own lifelong love story is so touchingly revealed to us in all of its minutiae. Rarely can anyone have paid such an intense and devoted tribute to his parents, in any art form. To do so with Briggs's magical drawing talent is so evocative and so moving that we have here what is truly a transcendent work of art. The direction by Roger Mainwood is perfect, and Jim Broadbent's voice for Ernest and Brenda Blethyn's voice for Ethel are beyond perfection. The other voices are also excellent. This film may not have the obvious attraction of snowmen flying through the air, but it soars nevertheless, higher than the air in fact, into a realm of pure love and pure simplicity. Long live real people! And may those who celebrate them always be honoured, as Raymond Briggs deserves to be for many long, long years to come.