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World Cinema, Film Review: Ethel & Ernest (2016) 29/03/2017

Figure 1: Ethel & Ernest
This film review will be focusing on the film 'Ethel and Ernest' (2016), this film follows the story of Ethel and Ernest. This film is based on the 1998 book Ethel and Ernest and is animated by the son of Ethel and Ernest, Raymon Briggs. The film is based on the real effects of WWII and before, showing what real British culture is and indulging in what some people would expect a 'Stereotypical Britsh Film' would look like. There are narrative elements in the film that like others films (Waltz with Bashir, Persepolis and Sita Sing the Blues) has its own little quirks.

The film was released in 2016, was directed by Roger Mainwood, was written and partially animated by Raymond Briggs and the film was produced by Camilla Deakin and Ruth Feilding. The film was originally a book written by Raymon Briggs himself, so he lived the life written in the book, he then turned the book into the film and even animated it. It's worth mentioning that Raymon Briggs is also the creator of the film called 'The Snowman' (1978), which is probably one of the most 'British' films you can see. Apart from the obvious art style, Raymon uses it's easy to see why this film could be seen as British, its settings, themes, topics, sound, and narrative all lead back to Older British culture.

Ethel and Ernest is simply put, delightful, with a compelling art style and strong storytelling this film is what could be considered stereotypical, but in a good way. Its easy to see how this film's art direction takes influence from Raymon's previous work, but newer, more modern techniques can be seen in here. "At times the movie threatens to melt into a pool of bulldog nostalgia, but it's rescued by a wealth of authentic social detail, especially as the young couple keep a stiff upper lip during World War II (in the darkest days of the Blitz, they sleep in a bed-sized metal cage to shield themselves from falling debris). Their boy Raymond comes of age in the swinging 60s, takes up art, and marries a woman with schizophrenia, developments that prompt Ethel and Ernest to wonder what it's all about before they disappear into the past they've so lovingly tended." (J.R.Jones. 2017)

Figure 2: Ethel and Ernest, WWII Bunker
So the film's narrative is based on the real events that occurred over 150 years ago, this includes Ethel and Ernest meeting up, Bombings, WWII and the growth of Raymond Briggs. Having the depictions of each event and not only seeing how Ethel and Ernest develop as characters but seeing the world around them change gives the film an authenticity which is very hard to come by in films. This is a story based off of what has actually happened, so the fact there is still a layer of truth underneath the layers of effects, paint and sound is quite astonishing.

The cast in the film have a very relatable tone to them, and the reason being is that they are like the viewer in every way and they carry a theme of respect. These characters are our 'Grandparents' so instantly we give the characters our respect because we would be where we are without them. Now whilst all of the British traditions in the film don't really exist today, we can still see what it was like. The music, food, and atmospheres of most scenes give's a humanizing element to the film's backdrops, we can easily see that everything is drawn, but seems real somehow.

Now the dark underlying topic for the film is the tragic story of all good things must come to an end. This is probably one pf the more disturbing parts of the film as it's not afraid to show you the harsh reality of death and its effects. We come to love and care about these characters, we've seen how they have gotten to where they are, their struggles, and their accomplishments. Towards the end of the film, however, we begin to realize that it's not just the end of the film, but the end of ethel and Ernest as well. We watch as they slowly begin to deteriorate, watch them die, what makes these sequences much more emotional are the art changes and the ending of the film.
For the whole film it is forgotten that this is a real story and not just some animation, so when you've been immersed inside of Raymond's world/memory when Ethel and Ernest die were hit with the cold reality of these were real people. Its the strongest storytelling element in the whole film and something that the film doesn't hold back for the viewer. We see how Earnest must learn to cope with the loss of his wife and the departure of his son. Then after Ernest dies we get to see a picture of the two together and whilst at the same time we feel sad we also feel happy, knowing that we got to be a part of their adventure.

Figure 3: Just Ernest
So the narrative, despite being, of British origin, still holds characteristics of British culture, however, this is reinforced by ethel and earnests artistic style. The original art style, once again, is done by Raymon Briggs. His art style is very distinct in a sense that everything seems hand drawn and nothing really seems to have any 'smoke and mirrors' to hide his work with effects. So already there is a theme of authenticity in the drawings, whilst being influenced by obvious architecture, characters, and popular cultural influence. The way the film feels distinctly British however isn't something that is totally obvious, but it lies in its character design.

Comparing the designs of people in this film compared to people in Japanese Animation (Anime), they are both very distinct. The Japanese art style is very distinct and widespread, and whilst these designs can sometimes be simple they can be deep and have a lot of thought put into them, the art style is overused quite a bit, and has somewhat become a norm in animation. So when this British film doesn't use the widespread anime art style, it immediately can be recognized as something different, which is a huge advantage on the films distinctive.

However, despite the fact that the film is based off an original art style, the film's art style translates very well into modern day animation techniques. Something to note about some of Raymon's other work, like 'The Snowman' (1978),  whilst it still looked very impressive, it looked very rough and edgy. This isn't a criticism of the art style as it was something that is quite distinct, but in this digital rendition of the book it takes away the edginess and the roughness and replaces it with smooth and clean animation.

This goes really well with Raymon's original art style and almost seems like some old mixed with something new. In terms of understanding how this art style is 'British,' it's important where Raymon's original art style would have come from. The original art style is descendent of older English drawings back when Wacom Pads and Bamboo Pads didn't exist, so the only paper was allowed to be used. It's not incredibly clear how the older art style looks as good as it does in modern time, but it's still something that uses both old and new to create something special.

Figure 4: Ethel, Ernest, and Raymon
The final few bits to talk about are the sound and some more literal techniques used in the film. The noise in the film once again derives from british culture, however, the film also uses superb voice acting in the film, most notably the british accents. This might seem a little odd to have this mentioned, but there is a reason for it, if the whole fim was done with american characters then the film immediately becomes more American. The inclusion of older, cockney British accents gives the cast an older British quality which can resonate with a lot of its viewers.

Freytag's Pyramid is used in the film, but it's used in an odd way. The whole film is almost like a perfect equilateral triangle, we have the whole build-up in the film, but there isn't actually a climax, never a moment where the action really escalates or elevates, but is rather just a gradual incline and decline. From the start we knew ultimalty what the end was going to be and freytags prymid shows its versisility here. The is a human story, so if the film followed strictly freytag prymid it would probably lose some of its more humanizing qualities.

Long story short, this film is an honouring to Brigg's parents, showing that even over 150 years later how much of an impact they have had on the British people, giving them an animator who has created experiences for everyone to enjoy, which in a weird way shows how the older British culture still shines through in these modern times. This film is a tribute, an honest, delightful and heartfelt tribute, and not one that should be forgotten anytime soon. "Briggs honored his parents by playing up their chirpy stoicism, but theirs was a generation of vast change, which we witness overtaking them without their full understanding. The backdrop to this very English marriage – soot and grit and survival, and that base note of touching bafflement – means all the tears are earned." (T Robey. 2016)


Jones, J. (2017) Ethel & Ernest.
(Accessed on 29 March 2017)

Robey, T. (2016) Ethel & Ernest Review
(Accessed on 29 March 2017)

Image Bibliography

Figure 1: Ethel & Ernest


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Typo Tom - "Long story short, this film is an honouring to brings parents," = "Long story short, this film is honouring Briggs parents,"


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