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Image Credit: Image credit: Larry Horricks/Netflix © 2021

Another reason to visit Suffolk: The story of Sutton Hoo hits the big screens

By Rachel Ducker on 5th February 2021

Discovering the history and heritage of Suffolk will reveal thousands of years of fascinating stories, from the lives of individuals to the fate of whole populations, and it’s easy to see why people love to visit.

The lost city of Dunwich once stood proudly as the capital of the Kingdom of the Eastern Angles, at its mightiest, matching 14th century London for size. Framlingham Castle, still sits proudly as an iconic symbol of history and heritage in Suffolk, most recently famed as ‘the castle on the hill’ by Suffolk born superstar, Ed Sheeran.

Speaking of stardom, another Suffolk Heritage site has recently made it onto the big screen. The Sutton Hoo ship burial was one of the most exciting discoveries in British archaeology, and one that profoundly exploded the myth of the ‘Dark Ages’.

In 1939, Edith Pretty, a landowner at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, asked archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate the largest of several Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on her property. Inside, he made one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of all time. Under the mound he discovered a 27m ship dating back to the early AD 600s, and at its centre a ruined burial chamber packed with Anglo-Saxon treasures.

The iconic Sutton Hoo helmet is on display with other artefacts at The British Museum

The story of the Sutton Hoo find has recently been made into a feature film starring Academy Award nominee, Ralph Fiennes, who plays Basil Brown. The Dig, which also stars Carey Mulligan and Lily James and was directed by Simon Stone, is based on the 2007 novel of the same name, and it reimagines the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo.

Fiennes was determined to nail down a true Suffolk accent, so contacted Screen Suffolk to help find not only an assistant, but crucially someone who also had an ear for the true Suffolk dialect.

Our very own LLM – Luxury Lifestyle Magazine writer and film maker, Jay Ducker saw the shout out on Facebook which simply read: ‘An actor requires an on-set assistant from mid-September to mid-November based in Suffolk and then Surrey area. Ideal opportunity for an entry level crew member. Must have a Suffolk accent.’ Jay had been making short films and promos to complement his music but had little experience on a film set, but when he saw the advert a friend encouraged him to apply.

We caught up with Jay to see what it was like working on the movie.

The Dig: Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown. Image credit: Larry Horricks/Netflix © 2021

“I remember being relatively relaxed because I honestly wasn’t expecting to get the job. I don’t have the strongest Suffolk accent and, again, I had very little experience in the feature film industry.

“What really put me at ease was that Ralph was already using the Suffolk accent. It kind of disarmed me and made me feel as if I was speaking to a local or someone I knew really well. But what helped me get the job, I think, was that I immediately heard when and where he was going wrong with the dialect and without thinking I started correcting him in the interview. He seemed to respond well to that, and I told him my background, which was in the music industry, so I believe it was my good ear that got me the job.

“My role was to assist Ralph in getting the best possible performance. Everything from making sure he was fed and watered to perfecting and correcting his Suffolk dialect.”

Jay would listen to Ralph reading scripts and suggest other ways for him to perfect the Suffolk accent. “There was a three-pronged approach when it came to dialect coaching with Jamie Matthewman being the overall guidance for all the actors, Charlie Haylock specifically zooming in on the Suffolk dialects, particularly with Ralph and myself being the everyday reference point. I think all our differing approaches really complemented each other,” commented Jay.

Jay is still in touch with Ralph as well as many other crew members. “The camaraderie amongst the crew was the best thing about being on set, for sure. There’s a real sense of togetherness when you’re cold, tired and in the mud together. You really pull on that to get you through,” said Jay.

The Dig: Jay Ducker. Image credit: Larry Horricks/Netflix © 2021

He certainly made the most of the opportunity and gained praise from Ralph himself who said of him: “Jay Ducker gave me a lot of support and help during the shoot of The Dig. I requested from Screen Suffolk an assistant on set who was from Suffolk – someone I could practice my Suffolk accent with. Jay adapted very quickly to the grueling filming hours and really impressed me with his spirit of commitment and dedication. He worked really hard.”

Since the film wrapped at the end of 2019, Jay has been continuing to make music, write for LLM and has also had film-making commissions under his Middle Sea Media business. With regards to the future, as with everyone, 2020 has been a strange one, and Covid-19 has kept Jay away from film sets, but he’s been left with a ‘deep appreciation’ of the experience.

“It was definitely character-building, and I know a lot of people would have killed for my position, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity. A friend of mine has written this fantastic script which is based in Suffolk and it happens to be about my great ancestor John Ducker, who was the last man to be publicly hanged in Ipswich, another piece of Suffolk history. Our hopes are to turn it into a feature film and help bring more film making to Suffolk,” said Jay.

Screen Suffolk who helped to find Jay, are looking forward to helping find locations for that film at some point in the not-too-distant future.