Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Put the kettle on ... oh, all right, maybe the tiniest drop of Bristol Cream sherry if you must. This is such a treat and. although it's on very limited cinema release at the moment, it will be on television over Christmas. Ethel and Ernest is the story of Raymond Briggs' parents from 1928, when lady's maid Ethel (I'm not a skivvy!) first waved a duster at larky milkman Ernest, until their unbearably poignant deaths in the 1970s. It's also a social history of ordinary people's lives through the 20th century: their pride in buying a house on a £850 mortgage which must have seemed astronomical - through the war years when their boy was evacuated to the country - and just as well, as they were bombed out twice - to the new television that brought Dixon of Dock Green and the moon landing into their living room.
It's not cosy because there's nothing cosy about Ethel breaking her heart at parting with the five-year-old son she dotes on. 'Over my dead body,' she weeps. 'It'll be over his dead body. Is that what you want?" insists Ernest. There's nothing cosy about a Morrison shelter that seems a very flimsy protection against bombs dropping on your head. Nothing cosy about the terrible things Ernest witnesses as a firefighter down at the docks. But they soldier on, and there's nothing cosy either about the indignities of death on a hospital trolley beside a can of Vim.
There have been some snarky reviews from critics (2* in the Observer, 3* in the Guardian) who seem to want Ethel and Ernest to be a different, angrier film about different people, not this gentle, affectionate couple aimiably bickering and buggering on.
But most people will love it. The voices of Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn, exactly right. The hand-drawn animation (64,800 drawings for the entire film). The memory-jogging period detail; that ubiquitous green paint. And no matter what life throws at her, there's Ethel's love of flowers - always a bunch of her favourite daffodils or anemones on the table. There's a trailer here.