Ethel & Ernest
Ethel & Ernest 2016
I always enjoy getting around to watching comic book movies that aren’t just about superheroes. This is the second film that I watched based on a graphic novel by Raymond Briggs after the lesser known 80’s animation When the Wind Blows. Briggs is probably best known for his children’s book the Snowman and while children’s books do share some similarities with comic books and graphic novels, there’s enough of a difference that I don’t include any of them in my list. This has a somewhat similar style as When the Wind Blows except that the backgrounds in this film are gorgeous. The two main characters actually feel like they inspired the two characters in the previous movie but they are actually inspired by the author’s actual parents. This film chronicles the relatively basic life of two simple people living in London through the events of World War II as well as their years afterwards. It might be simple, but it’s a poignant look at these two people’s life from the perspective of their eventual son.Ethel & Ernest begins with their simple meeting as Ernest rides by Ethel’s workplace on a daily basis as she is a house maid and things grow from there. One of the best parts of this film is how it shows through the narrative beats their financial situation without ever really having to spell it out. Ethel is often wanting to be a part of a higher class, but Ernest spends his entire life as a milkman earning a lower class wage. They are able to build a nice life for themselves despite his meager earnings due to his thrifty ways, and it’s always just a side note to the main story. Instead of going to the posh club, Ernest recommends a cheaper one down the road. Whenever he brings new furnishings to their house, he often has a quick mention of how he came by it slightly used or similarly. He reads about the poverty line in the paper and makes a quick mention of how he wished he made that much. It’s never at the forefront of the story, but it’s always in the background. It’s also never a point of contention in the couple’s relationship. Similar to the narrative, it’s mentioned, but quickly dropped for more important matters.
The look of this film is another great part of enjoyment. The backgrounds are generally simple suburban or country homes but they are gorgeously detailed in a similar fashion as a Miyazaki movie. The characters themselves are more simple and feel much more British and working class rather than Miyazaki’s more traditional anime style. It also follows their lives from being in their early thirties through the years to old age and eventually, their deaths. The changes in their characters as the years go on are relatively subtle, but effective, as is the change in their house decor aside from the couple’s bed that remains unchanged from the time Ernest brings it home to when their son visits their now-empty house. It’s also very effective when we do see Ethel first and Ernest shortly thereafter when they have passed. The style for their characters becomes very different, the clean lines become more like scribbles and the color has gone, making them look very different, very fragile and sad.
But what’s great about this film is also something present in When the Wind Blows is its optimism. Aside from a few brief moments during some of the worst parts of World War II with the air raids and having to send their young child to live with his Aunts in the country, Ernest is the eternal optimist. Ethel tends to be the one with moments of pessimism, especially when it comes to their child Raymond. Whether it’s when Ernest cuts his beautiful, curly hair for the first time shortly before he starts school, or when she hands Raymond a comb for his unruly hair when he brings his wife-to-be to visit to his chagrin. Despite the fact that they are lower working class, and their home is damaged multiple times during the war, it’s never a devastating blow to the family. They merely sweep up the broken glass and move on with their lives. Even at his lowest point when Ethel is in the hospital with Alzheimer’s or Dementia and no longer recognizes Ernest as her husband, he has a brief moment where he leaves the room with his hands covering his face, but after she passes, he is able to get on with his life until his passing shortly afterwards.
Like the characters that this movie presents, the movie itself is quite simple in its presentation. It subtly informs us of the passage of time and current events through the eyes of our characters and their son Raymond who really changes the most over the course of the movie. The voice acting was quite brilliant, with Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn voicing the titular characters and are the majority of the screentime. The one downside is even though Raymond’s wife is shown on screen a couple different times and seems like she is important to his life, she isn’t even given a single line of dialogue. But that’s a minor issue in an otherwise gorgeous and fascinating slice of life movie. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.