Ethel and Ernest tells the story of a boy meeting a girl, they fall in love, get married and then share their life together. That is the story and through watching it I realized that it was enough. There doesn’t need to be anything more, a life is filled with so many moments and challenges that that’s all you need.
It is based on the graphic novel by Raymond Briggs, who is a household name because of his extremely popular The Snowman (which was also adapted into animation). He based it on his own parents, he himself is introduced into the story but the material seems oddly uninterested in him. More on these two people.
They first met in 1928 in London so that is where our story starts. Ethal is a young woman working as a maid in a wealthy house. Ernest is living his life by riding his bike down the street when they gazes meet, Ernest takes it on himself to ask her for a night in the cinema. Soon after they get married, move into a nice house and from then on they witness history. From the rise of Nazis, surviving World War two and having a son its all about what comes and how they deal with it, but no matter what, their love endures.
Brenda Blethyn plays Ethel, Jim Broadbent plays Ernest. They are able to recreate the quick, higher tones of their youth effectively though if you are looking to find the elderly tones in their voices you’ll find them. But they own their dialog as simple people but filled with personality. Ethel is a woman that was one of eleven children so is very restrained and enjoys things neat, clean and proper. Ernest was an only child and raised in the slum area of London and knows a lot of cockney songs. He is more spirited and more likely to play pranks.
The drawing style is based off and very effectively emulates Briggs. The characters have realistic proportions but their features are stylized, the eyes are where they’re meant to be, but just dots with a line above and below. Other interesting touches like noses and fingers being shades redder than the usual skin color makes the whole thing feel more textures and organic.
The movie is so generous with its film-making. What I mean by that is that there are moments that could have gone by with less effort but they decide to put in the extra effort for the simple reason that they want to film be be good. Take for example a moment where Ernest goes to light a cigarette, he strikes his lighter a few times and no flame, he inspects it, tries again then the flame comes. In live-action you would have gotten that moment for free, with animation, every new pose cost money and requires planning. So they had no other reason to put it in the film other than it serves as a little extra charm.
This movie falls under that same category of The Long Grey Line, Bambi, Tokyo Story and Boyhood, just the tale of life. A simple story with simple people at the center but filled with great moments. By the end I was so moved by the feeling that I had really experienced these peoples lives with them, things had changed and I was nostalgic for the good old times. A sign of a truly great movie.