Robert Preston’s 2007 historical novel The ditch was inspired by a little-known but historically significant British event: on the eve of World War II, 1939, Suffolk, a self-taught but skilled excavator, Basil Brown, was called to the estate of the widowed Edith Pretty mother of one. Mrs. Pretty hired Brown, described by his colleagues as a difficult and unorthodox man, to dismantle the great burial mounds that occupied their backyard. While many believed the mounds to be from Viking times, Brown had other ideas. Their partnership, along with others, resulted in one of Britain’s greatest archaeological finds – an Anglo-Saxon grave ship from the 7th century.
Simon Stone’s historically inspired Netflix movie The ditch, adapted from Preston’s novel by Moira Buffini, takes up the little-known historical event to create a sometimes boring romance of war and mortality bitten by tired Hollywood conventions. The ditch eschews the smallest detail that some archeology aficionado might crave. Instead, his pastoral love story serves those in search of a melodramatic escape.
Think of the cast of Carey Mulligan as Mrs. Pretty. Her conservative wardrobe consists of large coats, ankle-length floral-print dresses, and subtle hats that match her low-key personality. And she suffers from an unknown debilitating disease originally diagnosed as ulcer-related anxiety that negates much of her strength. Mrs. Pretty was in her late 50s during the pre-WWII film historical events, but Stone makes her two decades younger. Mulligan is usually an insured actor, but in The ditch
The decision to cast Mulligan could be due to the reality that Mrs. Pretty gave birth to her son Robert (Archie Barnes) at the age of 47. While Stone endeavors to willfully portray Mrs. Pretty as a headstrong determined woman in later scenes to battle for control of the Anglo-Saxon artifact at the British Museum, he obscures her identity as an elderly mother in hopes of revealing her as a potential love interest annoy older Brown (Ralph Fiennes). The reasons for the decision The ditch in with other conventional pieces such as The last samurai and Where angels are afraid to stepwhere the widowed woman falls in love with a man who happens to arrive. Though, thankfully, Stone doesn’t stay on that register long, the suggestion that this will be a standard romance makes the movie’s opening more boring than it needs to be. Once Stone shifts his focus from Mrs. Pretty and Brown to another swirling romance, the narrative gains momentum.
After Brown discovers a possible Viking ship under the burial mounds, the location is brought to the attention of the discerning Charles Phillips (Ken Scott), archaeologist at the British Museum. Phillips is in command of the site and brings in other archaeologists like the Stuart couple (Ben Chaplin) and Peggy Piggott (Lily James) to help dig it out. Although Stuart takes care of Peggy, his affections are rarely intimate. He opts for single beds in their inn and ignores Peggy’s multiple affections. Stuart finds much more comfort in the company of his male friends. Peggy goes unnoticed until she falls under the romantic eye of Mrs. Pretty’s dashing cousin Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn). With their budding love, the outside world hinders the excavation.
The signs of an impending war are in everywhere The ditch: RAF planes fly over the Suffolk countryside, fresh recruits get on the backs of army trucks, and in London soldiers are sandbag statues. But Mrs. Pretty’s quiet piece of land, which cinematographer Mike Eley captured in lyrical hand-held photographs, is not tied to the concerned land. Peggy and Rory’s impotent romance, weighed down by the RAF’s imminent deployment to the RAF, not only brings this slow burn to a boil, but also immediately makes the oncoming dangers of war tangible. James and Flynn are such an aesthetically pleasing couple, too. With the sparseest screen time, they keep Peggy and Rory’s smoldering mutual desire up with a knowing look here and a feast for the eyes there.
Other arcs also fly when Robert grows up through fairy tales and Stuart investigates a latent gay relationship with a colleague. But none of these subplots draws with the same intensity as Mrs. Pretty’s fear of her mortality and her desire to be remembered. The possible Viking ship Brown discovers, from its intended purpose as a tomb to its clear symbolism as an artifact of heritage, represents the cyclical way people try to remember our short time on earth. Because of this, Brown fears that the snobbish Phillips will cross his name from discovering why Mrs. Pretty is desperately trying to take control of the found artifacts from Phillips, or why Rory is taking photos of the excavation. You hope to be remembered through this historic discovery.
A beautifully rendered pre-war parable of the fleetingness of love and life. The ditch at first does not lean as closely to the gate of mortality as it should. Stone appears to be lost between two different stories for much of the film: the intimate archaeological relationship between Brown and Mrs. Pretty and the larger romantic screen of Rory and Peggy. To interlock the competing narrative, he drastically cuts the former to allow the latter to bloom, and in the process brakes both. Leave history buffs behind and let those looking for sentimental escapism drift for a while. But once he completely shed the archaeological components for a palpable sense of melancholy in the face of mortality, The ditch becomes some kind of passionate piece worth snuggling up to.
The ditch Opens in limited theatrical release on January 15 and expands to Netflix on January 29. Check igamesnewss Guidelines for the safety of the local theater Here.