Ethel & Ernest (4 stars)

Ethel & Ernest

Hugely moving animated feature, based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Raymond Briggs

Adapted from the 1998 graphic novel by author and illustrator Raymond Briggs (The Snowman), this charming British animated drama forms a heartfelt tribute to the artist's parents, charting their lives from their first meeting until their deaths. It's preceded by a short live-action prologue, depicting an 82-year-old Briggs in his studio, explaining that there was 'nothing extraordinary' about his parents' lives and that they would no doubt be embarrassed by the film.

Closely mirroring the structure of the book, the film unfolds in a series of vignettes, beginning in 1928, when milkman Ernest Briggs (voiced by Jim Broadbent) and lady's maid Ethel (Brenda Blethyn) fall in love. They soon marry and move to a house in suburban Wimbledon, where they have a son, Raymond (Harry Collett, then Luke Treadaway). When World War II breaks out, Raymond is evacuated and the couple endure the horrors of the Blitz, including the bombing of their house. Years later, Ethel and Ernest are shocked but still supportive when a teenage Raymond announces his intention to go to art school.

The lovingly detailed animation is gorgeous to look at and remains faithful to Briggs' familiar style, while writer-director Roger Mainwood ensures smooth transitions between the stories. He also makes strong use of authentic recordings (be it songs, radio broadcasts, or the theme to Dixon of Dock Green), creating an appealingly nostalgic atmosphere.

Blethyn and Broadbent bring Ethel and Ernest to life with a pair of wonderful voice performances that convincingly capture the couple at every stage of their lives, with warmth and humour. Treadaway aside, the supporting cast rarely get more than a single scene, but there's an amusing contribution from a pleasingly cast June Brown (EastEnders' Dot Cotton) as Ernest's Cockney stepmother.

The beautifully written script cleverly captures the small but telling contrasts in Ethel and Ernest's personalities (one proudly working class, the other harbouring social aspirations) as they react in quietly different ways to various historical news items throughout the years. Ultimately, the cumulative effect of the vignettes is almost unbearably moving, producing much the same emotional response as the short montage of Carl and Ellie's marriage in Pixar's Up, only spread over 95 minutes. In other words, bring tissues – you'll need them.

Selected release from Fri 28 Oct.

Ethel & Ernest

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • 1h 34min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Roger Mainwood
  • Written by: Raymond Briggs, Roger Mainwood
  • Cast: Pam Ferris, Jim Broadbent, Brenda Blethyn
  • UK release: 28 October 2016

Adaptation of author and illustrator Raymond Briggs's book about his own parents, charting their lives from their first meeting until their deaths. Blethyn and Broadbent bring Ethel and Ernest to life with wonderful voice performances, the lovingly detailed animation is gorgeous to look at and remains faithful to Briggs…

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