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The first trailer for The Dig about the Sutton Hoo treasure hoard, filmed in Suffolk, has been released.

Netflix Film Tells Dramatic Story of Sutton Hoo Treasure Discovery


Netflix has released the first trailer for “The Dig,” a new film set in England and based on the drama surrounding the history changing discovery of the Sutton Hoo burial site and treasure hoard. So many movies have been sold claiming to be “based on a true story,” but so long as they say “based on” the director and producers can shovel us a heap of nonsense. Let’s hope this is not the case for the new Sutton Hoo film,  The Dig, based on John Preston’s 2007 book of the same name, that has recently emerged from this somewhat dodgy category.

The new film promises to tell the tale of archeologist Basil Brown, played by Ipswich-born actor Ralph Fiennes, and his famous July 1939 AD discovery of the now famous ancient Anglo-Saxon burial ship. The ship was discovered at the 6th to 7th century AD royal burial site of Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, in Suffolk. According to the National Trust the center of the ship was repurposed to serve as a royal grave. Surrounding the grave, the excavators discovered a huge cache of swords, shields, bowls, and cutlery, representing one of the most important historical treasures ever discovered in England.

A replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet produced for the British Museum by the Royal Armouries. (British Museum / CC BY-SA 2.5)

A replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet produced for the British Museum by the Royal Armouries. (British Museum / CC BY-SA 2.5)

Sutton Hoo: A King Among All English Treasures

Speaking with East Anglian Daily News a curator from the British Museum described the haul as “one of the most important archaeological discoveries of all time.” Perhaps the most iconic, and definitely the rarest, discovery at the Sutton Hoo site was a warrior’s helmet that has since become a national symbol for the Anglo-Saxon period.

The new drama retells the story of the discovery of this Saxon treasure hoard at Sutton Hoo after reports emerged last summer that Netflix had acquired the rights from BBC Films to produce the stylish period drama. 

The movie was directed by the Australian filmmaker Simon Stone, with Ralph Fiennes playing Basil Brown, Lily James as archeologist Peggy Preston, and Carey Mulligan plays Edith Pretty who owned the land at Sutton Hoo. The film will tell the story of the relationship between, and what happened to, archaeologist Brown and Pretty as they together uncovered Suffolk’s greatest historical treasure, and one of the most significant in all of England.

A Virtual Library Of 6th And 7th Century AD England 

The discovery at Sutton Hoo comprises two early medieval cemeteries that date from the 6th to 7th centuries AD and both sites are located close to the River Deben estuary. Approximately 20 earthen mounds break an otherwise flat horizon when viewed from the opposite bank and most Norse scholars believe the ruler buried onboard the ship was Rædwald of East Anglia. The reason this discovery is so important is because it tells volumes about the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia, and the early Anglo-Saxon period in general.

Two identical shoulder-clasps from the Sutton Hoo ship burial on display at the British Museum. (Jononmac46 / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Two identical shoulder-clasps from the Sutton Hoo ship burial on display at the British Museum. (Jononmac46 / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Besides the famous ceremonial helmet, a stash of artifacts and treasures was also discovered within the ship burial chamber. Archaeologists discovered a suit of fine metalwork dress fittings made from gold and gems. A sword and shield were buried with the powerful ruler to assist his voyage into the afterlife, and so was a lyre and a rare ornate silver plate that was made in the Byzantine Empire.

An article about the new Sutton Hoo movie in The Express says the Hutton Soo collection is “the greatest treasure ever found on English soil” and at the time it was discovered it was valued around £50,000, or 3.7 million euros today (4.5 million dollars).

An image of the buried Sutton Hoo grave ship revealed during excavations in 1939 AD. (Harold John Phillips / Public domain)

The Dig” will be available on Netflix on January 29, and here’s hoping it will be true to the well documented story told by John Preston in his 2007 book. His book was commended for its faithful retelling of the circumstances associated with archaeologists Basil Brown and Edith Pretty’s life changing discovery of the greatest historical treasure discovered in England.

Top image: The first trailer for The Dig about the Sutton Hoo treasure hoard, filmed in Suffolk, has been released.                        Source: Larry Horricks / Netflix

By Ashley Cowie



Hi All,

Just wanted to wish everybody A Happy New Years Day.

It certainly sounds promising this upcoming Netflix Film The Dig. Since Hollywood through any country tends to take on Creative licensing with Historical Docudramas I hope it comes out like it's been promoted.

It irks me to know in when they say their making an Historical Drama and instead the said DocuDrama becomes Historical Fiction within the Drama.

I just think when they claim their doing an Historical Drama then that is what should be presented.

Share an example, The Movie 42 it's the In theory Historical Story of Jackie Robinson.

At first glance your thinking that the absolute Truth is being depicted. Imagine my anger (yes anger), as I watched one scene where Jackie Robinson got angry at plate.

The opposite teams Manager was verbally attacking Robinson that point in the movie is True what happened Next Wasn't True.

Jackie smashed his bat breaking it; then stormed off in to the locker rooms while, The Game was going on.

It's a lie plain and simple.

Jackie Robinson never did any of that Jackie Turned the Other Cheek (in those Days adhering to the Bible teaching's was very prominent in Black Families), Jackie was selected to be the first African American (usage of The Spanish Word for black was a historical term) to break the color barrier.

This meant he had too accept Verbal Abuse, physical abuse, disdain from his teammates, be the most Hated Man in America, an accept all of the death threats.

The person that directed the movie, said he shot the scene that way because that would have been his response, too the situation.

The movie wasn't about The Director; the Movie was about Jackie Robinson, if Jackie had responded like that in the moment He wouldn't have dropped dead at the ripe age of 53, his widow is still with us She's in her 90s.

Why is it important for a Movie like 42 or The Dig to be done right Historically?

Any Historical Movie and I do mean any Historical Movie but, especially Movies about People of Color A Studio, A Director has the responsibility to Screen the truth.

To often as African American's our historical Truths are met with scepticism from traditional society how much is fact how much of it make believe.

Too sum up what I'm discussing about this article; I do hope that Netflix, doesn't Blow it with The Depiction of The Dig I mean we're talking about an exciting part of history in the field of archeology on Screen.

That's all I have to say on the subject; Netflix's The Dig and until, next time Everyone, Goodbye!

Drew458's picture

There is a project underway in England to build a full size replica of this ship using Dark Ages tools and methods. It’s a slow project, but they are making progress. Donations appreciated, and they send you a nice little lapel pin. At this point they’re confident that the burial was for King Raedwald, who died in 642 AD.



Thank so much for your informative review of the ‘Sutton Hoo’ treasure and upcoming film. I believe I own practically every article & monograph ever published on this historic and fascinating discovery. I always loved sharing this remarkable archaeological find with my ‘Medieval Students’ for many years when I was teaching.

The ‘Science Channel,’ (Season 3, Episode 6), showed recently in December of 2020, its documentary, “Treasures of the Warrior King,” all about the ‘Sutton Hoo’ discovery & dig, as part of its ‘Secrets of the Lost’ series, which was well done.

The whole ‘Ship Burial’ phenomenon throughout Europe is such a rich archaeological avenue for investigation. I’m waiting for a good monograph to be published on the famed early Viking ‘Salme Ship’ burials found in Estonia, with their wealth of treasures.

Thanks again for providing a great service informing us about the new Netflix movie, and giving press to John Preston’s novel, ‘The Dig’ (Other Press., 2016): 272 pp’s.

Dr. Dan

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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