I’m a huge fan of Raymond Briggs. I used to love reading “Father Christmas Goes On Holiday” to our daughters (and subsequently to our grandchildren) and, now, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without me inflicting “The Snowman” and “Father Christmas” DVDs on to grandchildren – whether they want to see them or not!
I also find it quite amusing that Briggs himself now appears to despise Christmas… “I don’t like the Christmas thing at all. It’s so full of anxiety – have I got enough stuff? Where am I going to go? What should I give for presents?”…
Well, I found this animated film rather lovely (Brenda Blethyn’s and Jim Broadbent’s voices are just perfect). Predictably charming and ordinary… and very much capturing Briggs’ style.
It re-tells half-remembered family stories – some sad, some very funny; it reminds those of us of a certain age about how things were and about how much things have changed for our children… and their children.
In many ways, it was like watching a picture about my own parents’ life and marriage… albeit set some 15 years earlier (E+E met in the late-1920s, R+M met in the mid-1940s):
· Ethel+Ernest were, like my parents Ron+Mary, from a working class background.
· Ethel and Mary had a somewhat similar, simplistic, attitude to life – the family was everything and what was happening in the world beyond the family never seemed to be important to them (BUT they were both critical of the length of their son’s hair!).
· Ernest was a milkman (with socialist tendencies!) and a bit of dreamer who took a keen interest in what was happening in the world via newspapers and the radio (and later TV). Despite his working class roots, Ron always voted Conservative; he was a compositor (printer) and was always keen to educate himself (he would have LOVED the internet!). After being made redundant fairly late in his working life, he ended up driving a bread delivery van – so, again, a bit like Ernest.
· Raymond Briggs himself is 15 years older than me… was a grammar school boy and then went to Art School (The Slade) – much to his parents’ bewilderment; I went to grammar school (and my parents were alarmed when I was put into the fast ‘Remove’ stream and somewhat sceptical about me going to study architecture at university - the first in our family to do so… and why on earth couldn’t I stay in Birmingham to study for goodness sake?!).
· Like Ethel+Ernest, Ron+Mary (eventually) owned a Triumph Herald… and like me, Raymond owned a Mini van!
· Ethel+Ernest had a very good marriage and enjoyed a good life. The same could be said for my parents… and I’m so grateful that they did.
“Ethel and Ernest” is a predictably nostalgic film – at times, moving, powerful and funny. The way Ernest stared at the sunset from his back garden or at the view across miles of open landscape with Raymond, is somewhat reminiscent of Ron’s (and Mary’s) appreciation of the world’s beauty.It’s a wonderfully evocative film and, for me, what I REALLY liked was its quiet, proud ‘ordinariness’ and the way it honours ordinary lives.