A driving passion, in-depth knowledge and perhaps a little eccentricity are key to success for a fruitful allotment, and very often for an engaging documentary too. So the Capel St Mary Allotment Association should be an ideal subject matter for a film even if you don’t know your horticultural onions.
Six miles from Ipswich in south Suffolk, the village of Capel St Mary has a devoted allotment association. In Digging for Victory local lad, Nick Woolgar, introduces us to some of the allotmenteers – and the fruit of their labours – in the lead up to the annual summer show. The result is a gentle, bucolic excursion that does not try to dazzle the audience with shocking revelations or hard hitting exposé.
Lingering on perfectly smooth onions, towering leeks and hallucinogenically deep red tomatoes, the film makes the produce look remarkably beautiful. The allotments themselves are also pictures of neatness, with nary a blade of grass out of place. If you run your own allotment, or one that looks like a weed-infested freight rail yard, this will be alternately awe-inspiring and excruciating. The immaculate vegetables are one of the highlights of the film.
Most viewers will be more interested in human beings interesting than vegetable and soft-fruit husbandry however. The Capel allotmenteers love their plots and get a lot of pleasure from tending them. They might be a little eccentric, but the co-director and producer Darius G Laws and Woolgar do not overplay these qualities. Instead, what emerges is a picture of the hard graft and quiet satisfaction involved in growing stuff, and possibly more importantly, the role the allotments play in building the community and providing a link to previous generations.
The personal and social role of allotmenteering is interesting enough, but perhaps not utterly gripping. If Digging for Victory suffers from any faults, it is probably that it doesn’t find quite enough to draw us in. It is honourable of Laws & Woolgar to steer clear of mocking their subjects, and besides, who wants to go around digging up dirt (let alone potatoes) in your parents’ village (in one of the DVD extras the filmmakers reveal Woolgar’s mum has an allotment in the village)? But a deeper exploration of personal motives or a tad more humour would not have gone amiss.
Things do start hotting up a bit around the summer show. With measuring tapes, clipboards, a gimlet eye for detail, the judges could be auditors from British Standards, but with Simon Cowell’s power to dash dreams. There are some pretty hilarious prize titles, the “Tom Richardson Memorial Cup for Mammoth Vegetables” and the “Ronald Tucker Prize for the Longest Runner Bean”. The highs and lows of the fight to be judged the best is not the point of Digging for Victory however and it is no great surprise when it is largely the old hands who win again.
A charming rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow wafts over the top of the film, adding to the mellow atmosphere. Even some of the allotmenteers have some oddly appropriate names, with a Mr Mower and Gavin Leeks (who is sadly not the leek growing expert). Digging for Victory could be likened to one of the less popular root vegetables, a swede or turnip perhaps; delicious if you give them the time, but not to everyone’s tastes.
Digging for Victory is out on DVD now, and comes in a brown card cover with a selection of seeds. Marvellous.