Monday, February 1, 2021

The Dig (2021)

A beautiful and astounding film about the discovery of the Sutton Hoo treasure. From The Decider:

If you grew up in England, you probably learned about the 1939 Sutton Hoo excavation in school. But for those of us across the pond, The Dig on Netflix has a lot to teach audiences about the true story of one of the most important archeological discoveries of the 20th century.

Novelist John Preston set about educating the masses with his 2007 novel The Dig, which has now been adapted for the screen by writer Moira Buffini and director Simon Stone, and began streaming on Netflix on Friday. However, though The Dig is based on a true story, the key source material is not so much the history as it is a historical novel. So sit back, enjoy the story, and take in the great performances by Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes—but if you’re interested in what really happened, you might want to purchase a non-fiction book. Let’s get into The Dig true story, and just how accurate The Dig is. (Read more.)


From Town and Country:

The movie, directed by Simon Stone, stars Mulligan as Edith Pretty, whose country estate is discovered to be home to some very important artifacts—buried, of course, deep beneath the ground. As the threat of war looms over Britain, the operation to unearth the treasures on her land goes into overdrive; archeologists will feud, museums will scheme, the notion of how history is presented will loom like a storm cloud over characters played by Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, and Johnny Flynn. It’s based on the 2007 historical novel by John Preston as well as the true story of Edith Pretty, whose land—known as Sutton Hoo—was where two medieval cemeteries were discovered in the early 20th century, and where excavation was ongoing as recently as the 1990s. (Read more.)


From The New Yorker:

In May, 1939, Brown returned to Sutton Hoo to tackle the largest mound. It “felt rather like digging into a small mountain,” he later recalled. Within three days, he and his team began to uncover the outline of a twenty-seven-metre Anglo-Saxon rowing boat that had been hauled up from the river and buried on the land above the shore. The wooden ribs had rotted away in the acidic soil, but the rivets remained, along with a beautiful, intricate imprint of the ship, as if a great crocodile had slept in the sand. Brown worked carefully with tools borrowed from the Pretty household: a coal shovel, pastry brushes, a penknife. He knew that nothing on this scale from the period had been found before. The middle of the vessel was “as wide as our small room at home,” he wrote to his wife, May. As he dug, Brown found signs of Tudor grave robbers: the ashes of a fire, an old beer bottle. He searched for a burial chamber. On the evening of June 14th, when he was alone on the mound, with the light failing, Brown came across an iron ring and the edge of a decayed wooden box. He knocked on it and it rang hollow. “I pushed my finger into a cavity, this may of course only contain bones but I shall see very soon now I know,” he wrote to May the following day. “Glad your teeth are alright.”

The find at Sutton Hoo turned out to be Europe’s largest ship burial, complete with treasure, and it ended Britain’s Dark Ages. Until the summer of 1939, traces of the country’s ancient past ran out, more or less, with the departure of the Romans, in about 410 A.D., and started up again with the first Viking raids, almost four hundred years later. “It comes to us from a period of our history whose archaeological remains . . . otherwise comprise ‘nothing larger than a bucket or longer than a sword,’ ” the British Museum noted, in 1946. There was writing from the time: Saint Bede wrote his chronicle in the eighth century. There was the magical old English poem Beowulf, a manuscript of which survived from the eleventh century but came down from much earlier. But the firm understanding was that the Anglo-Saxons—bands of immigrant tribes from Denmark and southern Sweden—were crude folk, who had lived crude lives and left little of value behind.

Edith Pretty and Basil Brown tossed out that idea. The burial chamber in mound No. 1 at Sutton Hoo contained two hundred and sixty-three relics of beauty, sophistication, and range. There were garnets from South Asia, coins from Merovingian France, a silver dish from Constantinople, fragments of textile worked in a Syrian style. The grave goods, most likely of King Raedwald of East Anglia, who died around 625 A.D., included a maplewood lyre, a stone sceptre, and an astonishing metalwork helmet, whose copper mustache, dragon brows, and triangular eyeholes have been familiar as the face of the Anglo-Saxons to British schoolchildren ever since. (Read more.)


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