Ethel & Ernest (2017) – SIFF 2017

Featuring the Voices of: Jim Broadbent, Brenda Blethyn, Luke Treadway.

Director: Roger Mainwood
Rating: Unrated (Equivalent to a PG)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Date: Pending

BBC, BFI, Cloth Cat Animation, Ethel & Ernest Productions, Lupus Films, Melusine Productions, Film Fund Luxembourg, and Ffilm Cymru Wales, and Universal Studios.

Written by: Roger Mainwood; adapted from the graphic novel “Ethel & Ernest” by Raymond Briggs.

OUR REVIEW:

Tender and endearing, Ethel & Ernest documents the six decades that author and novelist Raymond Briggs‘ parents shared together as partners and husband and wife. Writer and director Roger Mainwood adapts Briggs’ graphic novelization, where a son took pen and pencil to paper and etched out a lovely tribute to his parents, framing real-world events in and around his memories as a child.

Beautifully animated, with hand-drawn, storybook-like depictions of moments both intimate and larger-than-life, Mainwood and Briggs walk us through a sort of historical tour of world events from the mid-1920s through the 1970s. With terrific voiceover work by Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn, Ethel and Ernest become more than just animated caricatures of real people. The warmth and kindness the veteran actors infuse behind the microphone warm our hearts and make us feel like we are experiencing something unique, clever, and special.

The downside to the film is that the premise is a bit one-note, with Mainwood framing nearly every sequence the same way – an event happens, Ethel and Ernest comment, and we move on. While efficient in terms of storytelling, Ethel & Ernest struggles to break a lilting cadence that carries us through the film at one speed, no matter if we are expressing concern of World War II, buying a first house, struggling with personal loss and tragedy, or a decline in health. The film never breaks it’s tempo, which minimizes and diffuses the potential for other viewers to relate to what Briggs and Mainwood are depicting on screen.

If the tone is a little off at times, we keep watching because the movie is rather wonderful to experience, Mainwood’s animation department really has crafted a moving and unique visual canvas for us to admire.

Truthfully, Ethel & Ernest is not going to speak to everyone, and some may wonder why a story like this needs to be animated in the first place. Others may feel it may only exist for an audience of one, or perhaps a select few.

Watching Ethel’s and Ernest’s lives shared with us is done in a loving way; a sweet, intermittently moving, and always thoughtful tribute to a boy and his parents, the two people who influenced him the most.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

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