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).