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Western Animation / Ethel & Ernest

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"There was nothing extraordinary about my mum and dad. Nothing dramatic. No divorce or anything. But they were my parents, and I wanted to remember them by doing a picture book. It's a bit odd, really, having a book about my parents up there in the bestseller list among all the football heroes and cookbooks. They'd be proud of that, I suppose. But probably rather embarrassed, too. I imagine they would say, “It wasn't like that.“ or, "How can you talk about that?" Well, I have... And this is their story."

Ethel & Ernest is a British animated biographical film directed by Roger Mainwood. The film is based on the graphic memoir of the same name written by Raymond Briggs, and follows Briggs' parents, Ethel and Ernest, through their period of marriage from the 1920s to their deaths in 1971. It was broadcast on television on BBC One on 28 December 2016.

The film details the marriage of Ethel and Ernest Briggs from the 1920s to the 1970s, as they live through extraordinary events occurring in that period.

Tropes Associated With Ethel & Ernest

  • 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: The movie is largely traditionally animated, with a few 3D effects in the background. They blend very well for the most part, the only exception being a burning building collapsing during the Blitz scene, which sticks out a bit from the flat animation in the scene.
  • Author Avatar: Raymond, obviously, since he is Ethel and Ernest's son. What little we see of him is that he's closer to his father than his mother, and that they get along fairly well even after he's moved out with his wife.
  • Based on a True Story: It's a given since it's a story about the author's own parents. The original comic book is even subtitled "A True Story."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ethel and Ernest are both dead but after long lives well loved and well spent.
  • Blitz Evacuees: Raymond is evacuated to the countryside for most of World War II.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Ethel herself was a maid before her marriage to Ernest, but she tends to hold traditionalist views that often conflict with her working class roots.
  • Dawn of an Era: As Ethel and Ernest's life went on, they experienced many changes occurring throughout Britain. This included the proliferation of technology like stoves and bathrooms among common British households, the societal advances that included homosexual legalization and nationalized infrastructures, and the rise of the welfare state.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Given its setting in what is basically the beginning and middle of the 20th century, attitudes that would be considered dated nowadays are briefly touched upon.
    • Ethel and Ernest's casual prejudices towards other ethnic groups and nationalities during one conversation. Though Ernest does seem a bit shocked when he hears his wife complain why other people can't be civilised like them and live in peace.
    • Ethel being unable to grasp the concept of homosexuality when Ernest explains to her about it. It has less to do with any negative preconceptions and more to do with the fact that she doesn't even know that it's an actual thing that happens.
  • Doting Parent: When Raymond starts attending grammar school, Ethel begins to low-key brag about their son to the neighbour. Even after her son comes home in a police vannote  and her neighbour confronts her about it, she fibs that Raymond was helping them with some detective work, in an attempt to save face.
  • End of an Age: Besides the Dawn of an Era, it also marked the ending of Victorian and Edwardian British aspects like the waning influence of traditional British gentry, decreased barriers on social classes, and finally the introduction of the decimal currency.
  • Fashions Never Change: Ethel and Ernest's way of dressing barely changes in the course of their forty-year marriage, but justified in that they were well in their thirties when they first met so they weren't going to be keen on following the trends of the times anymore. Averted with Raymond who is obviously influenced by the 60s counterculture as he grows into adulthood such as wearing his hair long, for example.
  • Film of the Book: Film of the graphic novel, to be exact.
  • The Generation Gap: A little bit between Raymond, who becomes something of a hippie, and his Edwardian parents, Ethel and Ernest.
  • Good Parents: Ethel and Ernest are well-meaning, normal parents.
  • Good Stepmother: Though Ethel seems annoyed by her commonness, Ernest's stepmother is treated as his mother, with him calling her Mum and her treating Raymond as her grandson.note 
  • Happily Married: Ethel and Ernest had been married for forty-one years. Ethel's senility and her death were huge blows for Ernest, who still continued the routine as if she was alive just before dying at the same year as her.
  • Hypocrite: When Raymond was a child, Ethel loved his long hair and was saddened when she and Ernest had to cut it off. When Raymond grows out his hair as an adult, she wishes he cut it.
  • I Want Grandkids: When Raymond gets married, Ethel is excited at the prospect of becoming a grandmother...until Raymond explains that Jean having schizophrenia prevents the idea.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Ethel is upset at being unable to conceive properly as she approaches 37 and that despite being married for two years, they haven't had any children yet. Obviously, they eventually would conceive a child who will grow up to be Raymond Briggs, the author and illustrator of this very story. They initially planned to have more, but because Ethel was severely weakened from the delivery perhaps having to do with her advanced age, the doctor warns Ernest that having another child could kill her. This results in Raymond being an only child for the rest of his life.
  • Life Will Kill You: Ethel dies from leukemia, and Ernest follows a month later from a heart attack. Raymond may be all grown up and married now but has to say goodbye to everything that existed in his childhood home. It's even more tragic that in real life, Raymond loses his wife to leukemia, two years after his parents' death.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: When Ernest asks Ethel if she and her family grew up in that one house, she lists down her ten other siblings in chronological order.
  • My Beloved Smother: Downplayed. Ethel wasn't completely overbearing, but she had a tendency to be vocal of what she thought was best for Raymond.
  • Name and Name
  • Nice Guy: Ernest is a charming and cheerful man who deeply loves his wife and son.
  • Nosy Neighbour: Mrs. Bennett is a minor one. Ethel herself also sort of counts as one due to her Doting Parent tendencies. Ernest even tells her at one point that going on about their son is in poor taste since Mrs. Bennett's own son did not go very far in life.
  • Odd Couple: Ernest's support for left-wing causes (being a Labour Party supporter) tends to put him at odds with Ethel's traditional views (sympathizing with those of wealthier strata), but this shows their ability to maintain their relationship despite these contentions.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Anytime the cheerful Ernest becomes sullen, it's a serious matter. This includes the horrors of World War II, hearing that a friend lost his son, and Ethel's senility and death.
  • Parents as People: The titular characters, which is sort of the point as we learn about their personalities as the story goes on.
  • The Roaring '20s: Ernest meets Ethel during this period. It's most obvious when they go to a cinema to see a silent movie and walk through the streets with loud jazz music blaring in the background. They even encounter a sharply dressed couple with one of them being a flapper.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Toward the end of her life, Ethel begins suffering from dementia, to the point she no longer even recognizes her husband.
  • Slice of Life: The movie is entirely about the life of Ethel & Ernest, from the time they met to their deaths.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: As Raymond grows up, he begins to resemble Ernest more and more.
  • Together in Death: Downplayed Trope, since Ernest died not long after his wife's death the same year.
  • The Voiceless: Raymond's wife, Jean, speaks all but two words in the entirety of the movie. Justified in that it's mostly due to lack of focus.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When one of Ernest's friends asks if he could sleep with his wife, Ernest is shocked and refuses.