‘The Dig’ on Netflix


At the weekend I watched ‘The Dig’ on Netflix, starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, and Lily James. A lot of people seem to have been talking about this film, even before it was released. The film follows the story of Basil Brown (Fiennes), who discovers an Anglo-Saxon burial ship under a mound in a field in rural Suffolk. The land belongs to the widowed Edith Pretty (Mulligan) who asks Brown to excavate the mounds. The discovery takes place in the run-up to the Second World War and the preparations to go to war.

I’ve known about Sutton Hoo from a young age, as my grandparents live not far from the dig site. Obviously as a child I didn’t really know the history or what I was seeing when we visited the site, but when I visited the British Museum a few years ago and saw the Sutton Hoo treasures it really hit home what I had seen at the dig site, and now I want to go back.

I really enjoyed the film; it was excellent Saturday watching. I told a friend of mine how much I enjoyed the film, and he went and watched it. He didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as I did, saying that the interpersonal drama seemed contrived to liven it up, and the social commentary has been done before. I can understand that, but the film is brilliantly done, and the cast are fantastic. Carey Mulligan really carries the film for me.

Basil Brown, who made the initial discovery at Sutton Hoo, has largely been left out of history, but now he gets a film based on what he discovered. The film itself is based on a book called ‘The Dig’ by John Preston (click here to see the book on Hive). The excitement of finding an Anglo-Saxon boat buried under a mound in a field is really portrayed in the film, and I really felt it myself watching the action unfold on screen.

History is often reduced to objects that we can see and touch, and this is certainly the case with Sutton Hoo – it was said to be a burial ship and the most famous part of Sutton Hoo even today seems to be the treasure: the helmet, brooches, and jewels. What ‘The Dig’ demonstrates is that there are human stories behind the objects that we see today. Not just the stories of the Anglo-Saxon people who buried the ship, but the stories of those who unearthed it as well.

If you want to visit Sutton Hoo, it is looked after by National Trust (Sutton Hoo | National Trust) and the treasure is on show in the British Museum in London (Sutton Hoo and Europe | British Museum).

Book Review – ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris


This book is beautiful. Stunning. Haunting. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get round to reading it. I think in a way it’s the idea of reading about Auschwitz. The name itself has a kind of sickening fascination. The subject matter will be distressing for some and I think you probably have to be in the right frame of mind to really enjoy this book but find that frame of mind and you’ll be blown away.

Based on a true story, ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ follows the story of Lale and Gita and how their lives intertwine during those fateful years during the Second World War that Auschwitz became infamous for the extermination of the Jews. Lale tattooes the numbers onto the arms of those who live and work in the camp, and his own personal struggles with this job, and how he uses it to try and make the lives of those around him easier is inspiring. There are so many facets to the characters that come out and it’s beautiful.

Morris weaves a tale of hope and help in the midst of such horrifying events, and the juxtaposition of the two is incredibly powerful in the way that it’s told. Reading this with the hindsight of history in some ways makes it harder because we know how many people died as a result of camps like Auschwitz, but you can see the love and hope in these characters. A love story and hope for the future in the midst of so much death really does provide optimism and hope in the present.

“To save one is to save the world”.

This line sums up the promise in this book. It echoes throughout the story and is taken to heart. If you help or save just one person then your existence is worth it. I can’t even express how much this book moved me. If you haven’t read it, go out and read it now. If you haven’t already seen it, I have published my review of the sequel, ‘Cilka’s Journey’, already.

I don’t think it’s possible to explain this book – you just have to go and read it!

This has also been published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com.

Book Review – ‘Cilka’s Journey’ by Heather Morris


Not a Tudor book review, but an excellent historical fiction novel. My review of ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ is to follow.

Another excellent book from Heather Morris. This is a sequel to ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ but also stands apart from it. It follows the story of Cilka Klein, who was introduced in ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ but here we see what happened to her once she left the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It’s a haunting story, but, like Tattooist, filled with hope and love.

I think I enjoyed Tattooist ever-so-slightly more, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Although this is based on a true story, I think the veracity of it didn’t quite ring through in the same way as Tattooist, possibly because Morris couldn’t actually interview Cilka as she did with Lale. That’s not to detract from Morris’s writing, but I just didn’t get the same sense of voice as I did with Tattooist.

Nevertheless it was really well-written, and I couldn’t put it down once I started. I listened to the audiobook while I was working, and it really made the day go by quickly. There were several sections where I had to stop working for a minute and just listen, and other sections where I had to press pause and take a moment.

It might seem strange to read something so dark, dealing with such difficult topics in a time of pandemic (writing this in the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the UK), but it also gave hope and a light at the end of the tunnel feeling, that if Cilka could get through everything she went through, we can endure a lockdown, and cope with the uncertainty and change and come out of the other side.

I hope Morris keeps researching and writing because I would love to read more from her – she has a way of writing that brings true stories to life in a fictional guise. It is beautiful but also achingly haunting.

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com.

Book Review – ‘The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper’ by Hallie Rubenhold


Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper. Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women. For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman. [Description from Waterstones]

I really found this book totally engaging and interesting. It’s not about the murders so much as the lives of the victims before their deaths, which is an avenue not much discussed, even among Ripperologists as far as I can tell – the focus is on the murders and the identity of the Ripper himself. Here Rubenhold looks at what some term “the forgotten victims”.

The main supposition of the book is that the women killed by Jack the Ripper weren’t all prostitutes, as is generally accepted, but instead were killed while sleeping – the idea of them being prostitutes is “arbitrary supposition informed by Victorian prejudice”. The only exception to this is Mary Jane Kelly, the final victim, who was the only one who associated herself with the sex trade at the time of her death. This is a suggestion I’ve never heard before, but the way that Rubenhold puts it forward really makes it seem logical and possible.

I knew the basic background of the women – Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stryde, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly – but some of the detail in this book really shocked me and made me question some assumptions about the victims and made me think more about their lives before they met the Ripper. From their births to their deaths, and even what was revealed about the women in the inquests, Rubenhold covers it all, and makes a good case for her argument that the women weren’t all prostitutes. However, whether it will change long-established presumptions remains to be seen.

It’s engagingly written and Rubenhold lets it be known where she found her information, and where facts are sure, or it’s merely supposition (the latter largely in the case of Mary Jane Kelly). I listened to it as an audiobook rather than reading it, but it was very easy to listen to and well done. I think perhaps I might have found it a bit too difficult to read in places, given how the lives of these women panned out, but it was great to be able to listen to it instead.

Anyone interested in Jack the Ripper, or in social history during the Victorian period needs to read this book. It is really engaging and might change your mind about something you thought you knew.