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 )
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.
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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 )
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