The Dig unearths an Anglo Saxon treasure

Carey Mulligan in The Dig

The Dig is based on a true story about the excavation of an Anglo Saxon era ship from a mound on an English manor. The site was Sutton Hoo. The story is set in 1938 against the background of impending war. It’s on Netflix.

The Dig will appeal to archaeologists and history buffs. What adventure and excitement it provides comes from removing dirt from 1500 year old treasures – slow, exacting work.

The widow Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) owned the land. She lived there with her young son Robert (Archie Barnes). Robert was a Buck Rogers fan and invented some excellent space adventures for himself. When Edith’s husband was alive, they bought the place with the idea of excavating the ancient mounds that were on the land.

Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan in The Dig

Edith hired Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to do the excavation. He was not a qualified archeologist, but he knew what he was doing. In the classist society of pre-war Britain, that meant that it was a struggle to let him keep the job and to give him credit. Museum archeologists wanted the job and the credit.

Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes carried the story. Both gave excellent performances. Fiennes showed his years in this one. Even so, he looks like he could dig up all of Suffolk by himself. Mulligan’s character grew weaker and weaker due to a heart condition. She was wan and breathless at the end.

Other characters came along to liven up things. Edith’s cousin Rory (Johnny Flynn) came to help – at least until he was called up into the Air Force. Of the many qualified archeologists who came, the most drama was provided by Stuart Piggott (Ben Chaplin) and his wife Peggy (Lily James).

Lily James in The Dig

Peggy got nowhere trying to seduce her husband. That’s because his interest was in a male archeologist. But Rory and Peggy hit it off quite well. Those two probably earned the PG-13 rating for the movie. If you have young children who are budding history buffs, the little bit of kissing and sex between Rory and Peggy was done with discretion and shouldn’t be a worry.

There were some heartfelt thematic elements in the story about the continuation and connection of life from the past though the future. Facing death from heart failure or war was part of that conversation.

the dig site

The items such as rivets, coins, and gold treasures that could be removed from the site are housed in the British Museum. Nowadays, I assume a find like that would be measured, imaged, and a perfect replica constructed for the museum. In those days they covered the remaining traces of the ship with tarps to protect it and then reburied it.

The Dig was beautiful. The rain, the golden misty mornings, the vast cloudy skies – even scrabbling in the mud – it all looked good. The camera was often distant from the people, making them small and framed against the vast sky and open land.

The film was written by Moira Buffini based on a novel by John Preston. Simon Stone directed.

Poster for The Dig

Here’s the preview.

Have you seen this story of a real dig? What did you think of it?

Author: Virginia DeBolt

After many years as an educator and writer, Virginia retired from working life. She's always loved a good movie or TV show and wants to use her free time to talk about them with you now. She's Old Ain't Dead!

4 thoughts on “The Dig unearths an Anglo Saxon treasure”

  1. I’m surprised a movie was even made about what to most, would seem a boring subject. It would never fly in North American theatres so I’m glad it was made possible by Netflix.

    The characters really did seem to suit the times. I found Robert most interesting because you don’t see children these days with manners. His respect and devotion for his mother was refreshing.

    Ralph having been Lord Voldemort was a comfort since he was my relatives and history brought to life like magic.

    Edith fading was well done and I couldn’t help but think about how far from rescue she was that didn’t become reality until another 70 years had passed. Lots of lives lost then, so comparatively easily saved now.

    While the treasure was interesting, the mud was compelling. Most places here in North America at least don’t get interrupted by rain like England does. It’s a wonder anything got done, but it certainly did.

  2. So delighted to come across this film during these trying times. Though a “quiet” movie it appealed to me on so many levels: cast, script, filming, historical. Though I am from “across the pond” (native Californian) I love films like these (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) that are quiet and quietly impactful.

Comments are appreciated!