Thursday, 16 March 2017

Adaptation: World Animation - United Kingdom: Ethel & Ernest

Fig 1 - Film Poster
Raymond Briggs' Ethel and Ernest (2016), directed by Roger Mainwood, is the hand drawn animated film adaptation of his novel of the same name, which tells the story of his parents' lives from his perspective and understanding from when they first met in 1928 to the year of their deaths in 1971. Briggs himself names it a tribute to the memory of his parents and his way of giving back to them and remembering their lives.

The animation begins in 1928 at the point of his parents first meeting, his mother is introduced as a young lady's maid and his father a joyful and slightly lower class milk boy. Their relationship blossoms and they are soon married, Ethel retires to become a housewife, a house is bought and worked upon, and their only son, Raymond is born by the time Britain is at war. Raymond aged 5 is evacuated to live with family in the country, leaving Ethel and Ernest in war torn London, where Ernest becomes a fireman and we see him struggle to cope with the horrors of air raids, comforted by Ethel. All the while we become familiar with the quirks of Ethel and Ernest, and the familiar setting of their small terraced London home. Guardian reviewer Peter Bradshaw describes it as "a tender story about the lost world of what we now call the “white working class”" (Bradshaw, 2016).

Raymond grows older and the relationship of Ethel and Ernest remains sweet as ever, however the world around them is changing and they are from a generation that is quickly becoming outdated, we see them struggle to deal with raymond growing his hair out and attending art school, fretting he'll never be successful. And then it seems all at once the film takes a turn, and the ubndeniable ending you know has been coming but which you didnt want to happen is upon you. As reviewer for The Telegraph Tim Robey writes "The slide into old age (and dementia, in Ethel’s case) happens without foreshadowing, and before you’re ready for it, like an hourglass jolted and suddenly unclogged. By his mum’s bedside, a sad-eyed Raymond can only summon a quintessentially British brand of small talk: “The A23 was a bit choked up?”(Robey, 2016). This jarring transition is hauntingly true to life, making the ending minutes of the film evermore touching as you're constantly reminded this is a true telling of the lives of people you have come to know, understand and love.

Ethel and Ernest is an honestly and unmistakably British film, not just for the contents of the film, from the settings of industrial age London and rolling British countryside, the little idioms of Ethel and Ernest many will undoubtedly recognise in older relatives of their own, but also its tone. Its an oxymoronic happy/sad animation, the obvious truth to the story portrayed making it evermore touching, and its simplicity, paired with Brigg's unmistakable hand drawn illustrative style,  make the finished product thoroughly charming. Briggs' aim for this animation was to pay tribute to his parents lives by telling their story to a wider audience than his book would reach, and ensure their memory was not forgotten.

I  found myself quite effected by this film in particular from the selection of World Animation films as it hit very close to home regarding my own grandparents. I very much related to this film, as it echoed certain things I know about my own family's history. However despite almost being hard to watch at points, the film in a way helped me with some of my own personal issues Ive been dealing with surrounding family matters, so could call it quite a helpful or even cathartic film for myself and quite possibly someone in a similar position to myself, or at least that's my own take on the film. In summary, this Ethel and Ernest is hauntingly touching.



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