An Ordinary Life – Ethel & Ernest

14 12 2016

ethel-and-ernest (Cloth Cat Animation - 2016)

What do you dream of? Do you dream of riding a Unicorn and battling the Troll King in the city of Colossus on the furthest edge of Saturn? If so, then you have misunderstood my question. When I ask what you dream of, I ask that in the meaning of, what do you foresee for yourself. Do you dream of a big mansion, lots of money, a gold-plated Rolls Royce and a pet Jaguar? That sounds like a pretty good dream for yourself and I wish you luck in your endeavors to achieve that, but is there anything wrong with a simpler life: a life that involves having your own house, a nice job, maybe a husband or wife, a nice little car and a kid to call your own? Well, given a recent example I recently discovered, I can see a lot of pleasantry in just living a nice long-lived ordinary life, seems quite nice.


Released in 2016 by Cloth Cat Animation and Directed by Roger Mainwood; Ethel and Ernest is an animated adaptation of the Raymond Briggs graphic novel of the same name. Raymond Briggs is of course best known for his graphic novels including The Snowman, Father Christmas, Fungus the Bogeyman and When the Wind Blows, many of which have since been adapted further into films and TV shows. Ethel and Ernest follows the story of Briggs’s parents from when they began their courtship in the early 1920’s right up to their deaths in the 1970’s, along the way showing their incredible life through an ever-changing world, delivering their own experiences in some of history’s most notable moments.

ethel-and-ernest-book (Jonathan Cape - 1998)

The story begins with Ethel (Brenda Blethyn) working as a lady’s maid who over the period of a couple of days is spotted by a young man on a bike. After a few days the young man all nicely dressed arrives at Ethel’s work place and introduces himself as Ernest (Jim Broadbent). He invites her out on a date and after a few more dates, Ethel requests that she leaves her employ as a maid so that she may Marry Ernest. Her request is given, and the two marry, followed by getting a house together, and Ernest getting a job as a milkman. As time passes by, the two of them sit down into a normal living routine, with Ethel becoming a housewife and Ernest fascinated by the ever passing technological world, installs a radio and a cooker plus a few more home improvements to make it theirs. Outside of their lives, things are changing, Britain is on the brink of war with Germany, and people are out of work. While all this is going on, Ethel and Ernest conflict with one another due to their respective beliefs, with Ernest acknowledging his working class life, while Ethel believes that she is more middle class and up. Eventually Ethel is treated with the birth of a son they name Raymond (Luke Treadaway), but giving birth was a real strain on her and is told that it’s best that they don’t have another.


Britain engages with Germany as World War 2 starts, and Raymond is sent to live with Aunty Flo (Gillian Hanna) and Aunty Betty (Pam Ferris) in the countryside as he is evacuated with thousands of other children. Broken hearted at home without Raymond in their lives, Ethel and Ernest plod on with Raymond taking another job as a fireman during the Blitz Bombings. The two of them erect both a Morrison and an Anderson bomb shelter, and are privileged with seeing Raymond in the countryside and have him home one weekend, although he and Ernest narrowly miss an attack from a Doodlebug. With the war over, the family returns to normal, with Raymond going to grammar school and Ernest seeing improvement in his work load, although the two cannot stop bickering with the election of a Labour government and Churchill being kicked out of office. As Raymond grows up, he begins to do things very different to his parents that they just don’t understand, such as his desire to go to Arts School, while his parents can’t see much of a job coming out of it. Raymond grows his hair out, although Ethel continues to press a comb onto him. Eventually Raymond meets a girl called Jean (Karyn Claydon), who unfortunately is not able to provide grandparents to Raymond’s parents. The two of them get a house in the countryside that Ethel considers to be a dump.


As time passes by and the world steadily advances further, life for Ethel and Ernest begins to slow down. Ernest retires from his job as a milkman and Raymond gets a job as a teacher. Ethel and Ernest take in a more quiet life, but Ethel’s health begins to deteriorate, and as time passes by begins to forget things, even those closest to her. Eventually Ethel dies in hospital, leaving Ernest to fend for himself. After some time goes by, Ernest too dies. Back at his parents’ home; Raymond makes note of a tree in their garden, one he planted when he was just a boy.


Ethel and Ernest is a rather pleasant film which at first does not really present itself as a film, more a sequence of short films spanning the life of two very ordinary people. At first it’s like an animated slide show, and one I felt presented the story of these two-bit by bit, maybe frame by frame or chapter by chapter. The film however is at this point just starting its engine, as when life settles down, the Drama begins. At first these are two gentle lovers just enjoying life as it can be, but now they face the prospect of actually having to live together, and what we discover is that they are two polar opposites. They share dreams and desires for the future but like many of the time cannot see how much life will change ahead of them, or how quickly it is enacted. While it is very pleasant though, the film is somewhat tragic, as it ends the only way life can, in the Death of these two people, and how their life affects those around them at that time. But in that though we are presented with a cold hard fact of the knowledge that life must come to an end and how important it is that we don’t waste it, it’s one chance in only one chance. The film though while ending like this however reminds us that even when these two people passed on, that in life, although maybe not absolutely perfect, they still lived an extraordinary life, one that was filled right to the brim. Maybe not the most glamorous or exciting, but definitely a positive life, and shows that no matter your standing, class or background, a good life can still be had.


The film’s story I find is very similar to The Wind Rises, as though while in essence it’s just a story of the parents of Raymond Briggs, it also tells a very broad story of the growth of England from post World War One right through the tumultuous years of World War Two and the progression of life luxuries beyond that. It does this in a very unique way to. I have seen lots of documentaries in the past regarding what happened in World War 2, but most of these have taken the form of talking about the front line, the enemy, the Battle of Britain, the blitz, other countries and the evacuation of children; however I have not ever (I think) seen a documentary or presentation of the life lived by those in London during this time. I am not saying that said things have not been done before, but they do seem pretty rare. Here, this film really shows that with mentions of the Anderson Bomb Shelters and the like, to mentions of life for those working to keep London built and even the raids of Doodlebugs. It is a very nice way to tell a story but also presents information of what England was like that at that time.


While all this is going on of course, we get a real glimpse of the lives of Ethel and Ernest. The film does have some great cast members and features some cameos from people at the time presented in their original format, but this film really does work to show us what these two were like by making them the front-runner of every scene. But while it may be an idyllic life for those of a similar situation, there is a minor level of conflict between the two. Ernest for example is very much a working class man. He works hard because he knows he has to and is good at his job. He loves Ethel a lot, and even uses his manual labour skills to good use in improving their lives in any way he can; he is very much a working class hero. Ethel meanwhile comes from a more upper class background, although this is only shown in what she used to do for a living. This background though very much impacts her way of thinking, and though while their lives appear very much in similar vain to that of the average working class family, she genuinely believes she is not Working Class. This conflict between the two remains throughout, and while although this causes tension between the two-way of thoughts, they are less hostile, more just ways of thinking. In reality they are two very different people and share no real commonality in belief. This continues further when Raymond grows up, starts acting more like a teenager, a rebel against the old-fashioned views and respects. This causes Ethel to look at her son differently as he changes like a changed world, growing his hair out, not looking for a normal ‘job’, going down a different route, not buying a ‘house’ and of course not being able to provide her with a grandchild. It really shows the change in respects over time as though back when they were young; Raymond’s choices would not have stood up to anyone, but now the world is more free it goes against those older respects and really delivers home in a very presentable and obvious way the difference between the old and young generations.


Being based on the works of Raymond Briggs, the film strives to present its artwork and look in the same style as his book and his personal drawing style. The film looks very traditional in its animation, although shows some points where it nearly leaps off the page. It is 3D shaded but not flat 2D either. The animation is very fluid and very detailed, and within a few seconds really draws your attention in as it’s nice and clear but also very fun in presenting its information as well as world and characters. One thing thought that really stood out for me though was how it used 2 different styles of artwork to portray life and death. You see, when the film is playing, all the images are nice and colourful, nice and bright, as if to show their life and how easily they just jump off from the page. But then as the film continues, when it presents a moment of death, the style changes; while it still carries all other forms of life in the same style, death is a more static, 2D image, that is very detailed still, but the life is completely withdrawn, like they who they once were is gone and the body; like the drawing, has no life.


Ethel and Ernest has an interesting use of music, as for the most part there is pretty much no soundtrack, but that is in to say that one has not really been provided, but not there is no music either. No, instead the film uses a lot of old-fashioned and well known pieces from respected composers of the time using popular music of the current time the story is in. One piece though that has sort of been used as a standing point of at least some form of a soundtrack is that of a piece by Paul McCartney called In the Blink of an Eye. I am not really all that a fan of McCartney, but this piece of music is a nicely fitting piece. It sounds very progressive in its tune and presents other animations to mind as they pop into your brain. It sounds very British and really helps to create a vision of the passage of time in British lands and fits nicely with the images of this film. It’s progressive but also retrospective and just nicely fits in there as when the credits roll on they show how beautiful a life it was for Ethel and Ernest and really how well it was lived.

Ethel and Ernest really is such a pleasant film. It tells a nice story of an average family, not an average family who happened to be spies or anything spectacular on an action like scale, just an ordinary family living a pretty ordinary life. It tells a story of the inner conflicts and opinions of married life, plus also tells a story of Britain and the changing of attitudes and respects with the passing of time. It is nicely animated showing stark contrasts between life and death, creating some really humorous moments and at the same time bringing to life and telling the real life biography of two amazing people. Ethel and Ernest is a real family drama and a really pleasant film to watch, easily a future classic, one that families can (and probably will) continue to enjoy watching with one another in years to come.


Top 5 Top Gear Specials

31 12 2013

It is Christmas time once again (Yes I Know It Was Last Week), and it is the year for terrible TV. It is no mystery that TV at Christmas is bad. There may be a Doctor Who Special for Christmas, but given what those specials have been like since that Cybermen one (or that boring one with the fish), I might not bother. There are of course some Films to be watched, but given this time of year it is usually a good idea to avoid any films related to Christmas (so avoid Movies 24 (or Christmas 24 as it is known this time of year) in that case).

While most of TV is bound to be bad, let us not forget that there is one show that says ‘NO’ to bad TV at Christmas; Top Gear. For the last few years they have produced a wide and enjoyable selection of specials where the trio travel to a different country and look around and get up to some funny japes in a bunch of cars. So in celebration to these great men, here are my Top 5 Top Gear Specials.

Top Gear Botswana Special

5. Botswana Special – The Botswana special set up the core format for how all the future specials would turn out. While there had been previous specials, this one did the opposite of going somewhere other than America. It starts off nice and simple with the trio showing off the cars they bought (which were not allowed to off-road vehicles) and start the journey off with James May accidently driving into Zimbabwe. Over the course of the episode Richard Hammond grows rather fond of his Opel Cadet (even naming it Oliver) and becomes a bit too overly attached with it. One of the shows main points saw them driving through the Makgadikgadi Pan with some heavy modifications to Jeremy’s Lancia Beta Coupe and James’s Mercedes-Benz 230E. Another point of the show was that of the trio driving through the Okavango Delta, after modifying their cars again. Throughout the whole program all three cars had major (but also very funny) problems and were also followed round what would be a standard for all future specials, the backup car, in this case The VW Beetle.

Top Gear Vietnam Special

4. Vietnam Special – A very interesting episode as well as entertaining. The show began with them getting a lot of money to buy wheels, but discovered that despite having 15 Million Dong (The Vietnam Currency), it was not enough to buy wheels with, until they realized they could, but the form they did get, did not please Jeremy all that much, they bought bikes. This is an episode that I think about every now and again. I am not fond of Bikes also, and I try to think about what I would do in that position.  The early stages of the episode sees Jeremy struggle greatly with Richard and James drive off and not see him again until lunch and supper of the first day. As the episode progresses, they buy suits, buy ridiculous presents over and over again, fail a driving test, paint Richard’s bike pink, catch a train and turn their bikes into jet skis. They are also followed by a backup bike, but on this occasion it is not a great idea because it has an American Flag and American Flag decor and plays the Bruce Springsteen classic ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, not a great idea to do while in Vietnam. One of the more enjoyable bits though is when they go in search of their cars and discover how hard it was going to be and what they would go through in the hope of buying a car. But despite all the comedy and silliness involved, the whole episode is overshadowed by the Amazing country that it is set in. The shots of the cities, countryside as well as the weather is incredible to watch.


3. Bolivia Special – Simple plan initially, buy 3 off-road vehicles and travel to the Pacific Ocean, the start point however is in the middle of a jungle. The Bolivia Special has one if not the best opening for a top gear special. It initially starts out with the trio waiting for their vehicles, point out everything that is wrong with the vehicles and then try to get them off a raft. Jeremy goes for a Range Rover which is consistently referenced as the most unreliable car in the world, which throughout the episode turns out to be the most reliable car of the three. James buys a Suzuki SJ413 which was apparently blue in the catalogue he ordered it from, but turned out to be red. Richard meanwhile lands for a Toyota Land Cruiser which in the end does not make it. Much like the Vietnam special, part of this episode features an interesting country as well as journey which starts in the jungle and ends up in a desert where there is no life at all. The jungle section is really good and even as that part goes, the episode does not let up, even when driving on the most dangerous road in the world on one of the highest roads in the world to the eventual end of driving the two remaining cars down some dunes. The trios experience through these points is brilliant also such as how much they suffered at high altitudes, and Hammond’s experience at taking caramelized drugs. Very enjoyable and memorable episode, definitely a highlight for the show.


2. Africa Special – The first Two Part special, the trio go in search of the true source of the River Nile. Travelling in Estate cars, the trio are trying to be explorers to look for the real source of the river Nile, something that has been queried and argued for a long time (apparently). The episodes start off as normal but as the first episode goes on, they discover more and more of the country and for a time it turns in similar fashion to the Vietnam Special. As it progresses they boys modify their cars to sleep inside them instead of Richard’s Favourite past time and drive through a town named Jezza. As it becomes clear they have been going in the wrong direction, and become rather despondent, they go in a different direction which leads to them sailing across Lake Victoria in a short, but rather interesting few moments which leads to Hammond losing a lot of food from his car, even though he can only cook baked beans. In the second episode they get closer to their destination, after stealing bits and bobs off each other’s cars they build a car ferry to get across a river. They then arrive on a very perilous road which causes them nothing but problems before a mad dash finish to find the source which James does. While these Episodes are great, I do feel like the second episode lets the first one down, especially with the whole car ferry moment, if that was shorter, and had more stuff on where they were as well as what they got up to, it would be number 1. But I do wait with much anticipation towards any future double episodes, it works, it really does.


1. India Special – The India Special had it all, Good Cars, Great Challenges, Silly Incidents and an Amazing Country. Thinking it would be a great idea to get some trade going for the UK by visiting India, the trio go there on a trade mission in a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, Jaguar XJS and Mini Cooper. They try to use their cars in a way that might be able to get India to trade with England such as delivering hot food instead of the train, hosting Motorsport and decorating them in an Indian way including a painted flag that is not Indian. The trio do other things also such as putting banners on the side of trains which in the end leave rude messages, host a trade reception which ends with an accident with a homemade firework as well as a runaway Lawn Mower. The trio also improve a couple of British Made products also by making a far better version of the pointless Paul McCartney Song ‘Hey Jude’ and greatly improve the most boring sport in the world; Cricket. The episode is also filled with funny incidents including James taking revenge on Jeremy and Richard for messing with his car, and repeated fun at Richard’s expense by playing a Genesis song over and over again. Much like the Vietnam episode also, it is a great representation of an amazing country and culture revealed as the show goes on. Even after the great African Special, this remains my Favourite Top Gear Special.


Top 5 Heavy Metal Bands That Did Not Appear At The Olympics (Either Ceremonies Or In General)

3 09 2012

From the title you may be thinking “There was Metal at the Olympics?” to which the answer is NO, THERE FLIPPING WASN’T. Apologies if this turns into a rant but the point has to be made that while the Olympic Ceremonies in London this year had a broad range of Great Music including The Who, Queen and Madness, some of the music presented were from useless/pathetic bands. There was of course Paul McCartney singing that Nanananaa Song (Which is Rubbish, someone had to say it) as well as bands like The Arctic Monkeys, Museli and worst of all One Direction. Why was there no Metal, The british invented Heavy Metal and some of the great Legends of Heavy Metal reside in England (Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead and Saxon). Ok, you may want more independent and perhaps lesser known groups to play, well in that case why not DragonForce. Why do waste our times with nonsense like One Direction when we could have had Motorhead. Why did we finish with Paul McCartney when we could have had Black Sabbath. It does not make sense.

Because of this Lack of Metal I have chosen the Top 5 Metal Bands which should have appeared at The Olympics, anyone of them will have greatly improved the Olympics. The list is not a case of best Metal Band it is a case of which had the best songs and would have made the best impact for the London Olympics. Also, all of the following bands are from Britain.

So for all those disappointed Metal Fans (which includes me) lets show what this country is made of, Heavy Metal Fans UNITE.

5. DragonForce – While there are plenty of other Big Name Metal Bands, DragonForce is a lesser known band when you compare them to Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. However due to their independent status they become a perfect choice for the Olympics. If they want lesser known acts why not DragonForce. Not only that but their song Through the Fire and Flames is possibly the most watched video on YouTube (if you know of any that has more views than it, please let me know). Much like bands such as Manowar and in someway Brocas Helm their lyrics are all based on Mythology and that theme does fit into Britain’s Strong Medieval History. So with all these positive points I do not see why they were not chosen (I am using Cry Thunder because Everyone has already heard Through the Fire and Flames).

4. Motorhead – One of the greatest legends in the world of music with the God-Father of Heavy Music on Bass and Vocals, these guys are Loud, Fast and Dangerous. They do show that Working Class style of music which started in Britain with Black Sabbath. Motorhead‘s music is more in your face home-made style instead of following certain codes of how music of certain genres needs to be played for most bands. There is not much more than to say but just listen to the music and you will see what I mean, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, LISTEN TO THE MUSIC.

3. Saxon – Regarded as one of the Best and Greatest Metal Performers and with a name which is strong in British History, SAXON would be a perfect choice for the Olympic Ceremonies. Very few bands these days do sing along sections or get people involved with the Music, Saxon does though. With songs like Strong Arm of the Law (a song about the British Police), And The Bands Played On (a song about the first Download Festival/Monsters Of Rock) and other songs which have a sense of Mythology and Medieval History to them it does not make sense to why they were not chosen to perform. Perhaps the organisers were not too big on English Medieval History, Who Knows (well except for them of course).

2. Black Sabbath – While Black Sabbath is my favourite Band, in terms of the Olympics, their songs  would have been great for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, their songs would not really work for the Olympics as a Whole. If they were at the Opening Ceremony it would have been a whole lot better, “that’s McCartney out of the way and now Ladies and Gentlemen, BLACK SABBATH”. Even if Ozzy was by himself and sang Crazy Train (which would explain the London Underground) that would have been Fantastic, But NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. So Ladies and Gentlemen here for your entertainment (unlike Paul McCartney), here is BLACK SABBATH.

1. Judas Priest – Since the start of the Olympics I have said (CONSTANTLY – IF ANYONE LISTENED IS ANOTHER THING) that Hellion Electric Eye would have been a perfect choice for Olympic Theme as well as Breaking The Law which would have been a great way to explain what a Chav is. While Black Sabbath is the better choice for the Ceremonies, Judas Priest is a Perfect choice for the feel and look of the London Olympics. So without further a do here they are. The Top Metal band for the London Olympics – Judas Priest.

GENEPOOL (I wonder if Danny Boyle is reading this?)

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