The Dig: Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes star in Netflix trailer
The Dig follows some incredible discoveries at Sutton Hoo, with Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan in the starring roles. They play self-taught archaeologist Basil Brown and Edith Pretty, a woman whose land is excavated with extraordinary results. But is the plot of the new Netflix film The Dig based on real life?
Is the plot of Netflix movie The Dig a true story?
The Dig is based on a true story, and the events at Sutton Hoo in 1939 did take place.
According to the National Trust, who runs the site now as a tourist attraction, The Dig is based on a novel written by John Preston.
While the film is based on the novel, many of the events and characters depicted in both the film and the novel are inspired by real events and real people.
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One of these is Edith Pretty, played by Carey Mulligan, who owned the Sutton Hoo estate and was the instigator of the first excavations, which ended up revealing some incredible medieval finds.
Carey said of the role: “I’d never heard her name before. The character was so compelling, but diving into her real life was extraordinary.
“She was so beyond her time as a woman at the beginning of the 20th century. She was well travelled and educated and generous throughout her life.”
In July 1937, Edith met Vincent Redstone, a local historian, and spoke about burial mounds on her estate, which she became increasingly curious about.
He wrote to Ipswich Museum and soon after the museum’s curator, Guy Maynard, visited the estate and the beginnings of the excavation project began.
The following year, Edith made arrangements with Guy and James Reid Moir, the president of the museum, for the ground to be excavated, with Basil Brown leading the project.
Basil and his assistants Bert Fuller and Tom Sawyer, who were labourers on the site, were given accommodation with Edith, and began their work.
Basil, played by Ralph Fiennes, learned his trade while working with his father, a farmer in Suffolk.
Through their work together Basil became familiar with soils and geology in East Anglia particularly, while also teaching himself the ins and outs of archaeology.
He worked as an archaeological contractor for Ipswich Museum in 1935, which helped him become the lead on the Sutton Hoo project.
The excavations of 1938 began working on four mounds of earth, with their finds sparking interest from the British Museum when Guy reported it to them.
However, the largest mound was untouched, and a second excavation was decided for 1939.
For this, Basil had new assistants, gamekeeper William Spooner and gardener John Jacobs, the latter of whom discovered something quite spectacular.
At this point, archaeologist Charles Phillips was placed as head of the excavation, with Basil assisting and Stuart and Peggy Piggott were also invited to work on the site.
Lily James plays Peggy in the film, and said of her character: “The film catches her straight out of university and right at the beginning of her incredible journey.
“She was an archaeologist for almost 60 years and you just have this sense she had a full life and was brave.
“She achieved so much against all the odds; she’s an inspiration.”
The excavation slowly became a difficult one, with Charles’ relationship with Ipswich Museum becoming strained, though it has been noted he and Basil had “mutual respect”.
While things were difficult on site, the pressure mounted as the press became aware of the findings, and more museums wanted to come on site to excavate.
There may be some leniency with the truth in the new film, however it seems the story of The Dig is a pretty dramatic one.
The Dig is released on Netflix on January 29
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