Find out about the true events behind this unmissable new movie starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes
By Virgin TV Edit
Based on John Preston’s 2008 novel, new Netflix Original film The Dig tells the true story of one of the most astonishing archaeological finds in British history.
The year is 1939. On the eve of the Second World War, widower Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) is perplexed by strange mounds dotted around the land she owns at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk. Calling in taciturn local excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), it’s soon revealed that under the soil lies an Anglo-Saxon royal burial chamber.
Filled with incredible artefacts from the seventh century, it’s a discovery like no other. But with such a remarkable find comes increased interest from far and wide, including shady archaeologist Charles Phillips (Ken Stott)…
The Sutton Hoo excavation continues to fascinate decades after it took place, and one man who knows more than most about it is Professor Martin Carver, Professor Emeritus at York University. Carver is one of the UK’s go-to experts on the story at the centre of The Dig and even conducted a separate excavation at the site from 1983.
Carver, who helped Ralph Fiennes flesh out his portrayal of Basil Brown, recently spoke with us about the film, what the excavation tells us about our past, and why archaeology should definitely be taught in schools…
It’s “page one” of England’s history
“As far as historians are concerned, it’s kind of page one of English history. It’s the first sighting of an Anglo-Saxon king. He’s buried at a time when the Anglo-Saxon kings are Pagan and are feeling anxious about Christianity. It’s a pivotal moment.”
The items discovered are stunning…
“To those not hugely aware of English history, they are struck by the sheer beauty of the objects found in the grave. They are beautiful – and they’re on display at the British Museum. There’s an incredible variety.”
… but one stands out the most
“The one that captures everyone’s imagination is the helmet. It’s made of iron and has bronze fittings. It’s got little pictures on it, and a fabulous dragon which comes over the top of the helmet and acts as a protective ridge. There’s also a bird of prey on there. It’s incredibly ingenious. It’s such an evocative object. There’s something unusual in pretty much every aspect of that burial.”
It tells us about our early relationship with Europe
“A small piece of England in Suffolk was receiving extraordinary gifts from the whole of Europe in the seventh century. And the seventh century is supposed to be a time that people don’t know about. They call it a Dark Age. Suddenly it’s quite a bright age, a time when little kingdoms are forming that have contacts in Scandinavia and France and the Mediterranean.”
“It’s got drama written all over it”
“The circumstances are quite romantic, and I think that’s what will make the film successful. They’re doing a dig, digging up German ancestors, just as the Second World War is about to begin. It’s got drama written all over it. People are excited by that.”
There could be more burial ships in the UK
“There are ship burials in Scandinavia going right up until the 11th century. In Britain, our ship burial period is relatively short and is just consigned to East Anglia at the moment. But there could be more in East Anglia, definitely. In the Viking period, there should be more in Scotland, where some have already been excavated.”
Basil Brown was a talent
“What do you mean, you forgot to bring the shovel?”
“Ralph Fiennes has done an extraordinarily good job. I think Brown had a real flair for looking beyond the dirt, which is what you need as an archaeologist. To look for shapes with meaning. When you’re digging, your mind is surging here and there all the time, trying to recognise signs of where people were and what they did.”
Archaeology should be taught in school
“Its time has come. Archaeology has become more certain. A subject which teaches you how to read history, understand material remains, and combines science, the humanities and social sciences all in the same subject area… I think that’s a cracking subject. I don’t know why it’s not taught in schools.”
Discover even more great Netflix Original movies
The Dig is just one of many Netflix Original films being released throughout 2021. Want to get the lowdown on some of the other unmissable titles heading to the streaming service this year? Then check out the top picks you need to know about.
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