Butter a crumpet and snuggle down with this affectionate animation about illustrator Raymond Briggs’s parents. Briggs, now 82 and drinking tea from a ‘Snowman’ mug, introduces the film which is based on his graphic novel. There was ‘nothing extraordinary’ about his mum and dad, he tells us. But that’s what’s so lovely about ‘Ethel & Ernest’. To borrow a Taoist phrase, there’s wisdom in seeing the amazing in the ordinary.
The story begins in 1927, when milkman Ernest (voiced by Jim Broadbent) catches the eye of a lady’s maid, Ethel (Brenda Blethyn), as she’s cleaning the windows. He’s a cheery cor-blimey cockney. She wants to escape her lowly background into middle-class respectability. Ethel and Ernest get married (and pay the princely sum of £825 for a two-bedroom terrace in Wimbledon). Then… well… normal life. They struggle to have a baby, make it through WWII, watch in horror as little Raymond goes to art school and becomes a hippy, and grow old. It’s all a bit Alan Bennett, but fonder, minus the sharp edges.
The animation is beautifully old-fashioned (with the exception of one morgue scene with a dead body on a slab – no longer human, all the life sucked out). Philip Larkin famously wrote that your parents fuck you up. Perhaps Briggs’s take is more mature. If you can let go of the bitterness and blame, forgive your parents for the things that have driven you crazy your whole life, you’ll find a path through.
I’m not sure who ‘Ethel & Ernest’ is for. Not kids, who’ll be bored out of their minds. But under the duvet, this a perfect Netflix watch