This was another novel I read after watching a filmed dramatisation on Netflix. (See The Queen’s Gambit previously.) It’s an historical novel set on the eve of World War Two. The action takes place at the site of the famous archaeological dig at Sutton Hoo. The author, John Preston, is a journalist who discovered that he was distantly related to one of the archaeologists. Although his connection with the renowned dig is tenuous it was enough to inspire him to write this intriguing novel.
Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge in Suffolk, is the site of two Anglo Saxon cemeteries dating from the sixth to seventh centuries. When excavated, a burial ship and a mass of artefacts were discovered. Mainly now housed in the British Museum, the land and the ownership of the treasure belonged to Mrs Edith Pretty. Mrs Pretty employed a local, amateur archaeologist, Basil Brown, to lead the excavation. But when it became apparent that the site was of immense significance the professional and academic establishment rushed to take charge.
On the author’s own admission, the novel is only loosely based on the true story of the dig. Even the chronology of the dig is adapted for dramatic license. The main characters really existed in real life but their stories as depicted in the novel are largely invented by the writer.
The novel is divided into sections and each new section is a recount of the story from the point of view of a different character. Consequently, the reader gets different versions of what’s going on, the action and the relationships between individuals. This makes a fairly straightforward story much more interesting and the hidden aspects of the characterisation parallels the hidden secrets of the dig itself.
It’s interesting to consider the Netflix adaptation where the screen writers have taken a story which is largely fabricated and re-worked it and fabricated even more so that the final result bears little resemblance to the reality of the original dig. But having said that, it’s a really good film. The newly invented story works really well and the whole is beautifully filmed. The acting is superb particularly Ralph Fiennes speaking in a strong rural Suffolk accent without a hint of parody.
Yes, an interesting story makes a good novel which in turn leads to an excellent film.
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Image credit: British Museum, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons