Top 10 Things The Dig Got Factually Right & Wrong
VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Shaina Higgins
We did some digging and this is what "The Dig" got factually right and wrong. Our countdown includes the plane crash, Edith Pretty, Peggy Piggott, and more!
Top 10 Things The Dig Got Factually Right and Wrong
Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Things The Dig Got Factually Right and Wrong
For this list, we’ll be unearthing the true story behind the new movie streaming on Netflix.
Have you seen “The Dig?” Give us your thoughts about it in the comment section.
#10: The Sutton Hoo Dig
Any kid who has ever seen an adventure movie has dreamed about finding buried treasure in the backyard, but If you’re Robert Pretty dreams really can come true. As we see in the movie, his mother Edith Pretty hired Basil Brown to excavate the burial mounds that dotted her Suffolk property. The result was a life changing discovery. The archaeologists who worked on the site discovered weapons, armor, tools and more. Did we mention they found all of this in a 7th century Anglo-Saxon ship? More than just being wildly cool for its own sake, the Sutton Hoo dig proved to be a highly significant discovery for the continued understanding of Anglo-Saxon civilization. So what’s in your backyard?
#9: The Time Frame
Given the scope of the findings and the scale of the archaeological magnitude, it’s really impressive that this whole dig went down in a single summer. That’s because it didn’t. The movie compresses events for the sake of the narrative, but excavation is usually a much lengthier process. The movie jumps us right into the summer of 1939, which was the last phase of its historical counterpart. The real story began two years earlier when Edith Pretty first started exploring the idea of having the mounds excavated. The Ipswich Museum put her in touch with Basil Brown who started work in June of 1938. It wasn’t until he returned to the site the following summer that he would make the biggest discoveries though.
#8: The Plane Crash
A striking moment in “The Dig” occurs when a warplane crashes in the river near the dig site. As Edith and Peggy watch, the archaeologists rush to help only to have to recover the pilot’s lifeless body. This tragic incident is a very poignant reminder about the threats of the real world looming larger over the excavation project, and fits within the movie’s larger themes about mortality and permanence. It is not, however, a part of any real story relating to the dig. The story may be loosely based on a plane that crashed in the nearby Deben river during the late days of World War II, but the event we see on screen is purely artistic license.
#7: Basil Brown’s Amateur Status
Much is made in “The Dig” of the fact that Basil Brown is not considered a professional archaeologist. This is true, but it only makes Brown himself a much more impressive figure. Brown started exploring Roman remains in Suffolk as a hobby and eventually uncovered a number of ancient roads and Medieval buildings in addition to locating the sites of ancient settlements. His success eventually earned him part time contract work with the Ipswich Museum, putting him on the path to Edith Pretty’s property. Where he would go on to make history. All without any formal training. Tell that story to the next person who makes fun of your nerdy hobby.
#6: Sparks Between Edith and Basil
One thing we’re grateful for is the fact that “The Dig” never turns into an excuse for a cliched love story. But this is still a movie, and there’s only so much restraint we can expect. The sparks between Edith and Basil are very subtle, but they’re still present especially on Edith’s side. Even that is a little much for us. While the real life Basil and Edith had a positive platonic relationship, there is no evidence that either felt anything more than professional appreciation for the other person. Frankly, we don’t think this movie needs any more than that between them. The world needs more examples of men and women who can like and respect one another without getting romantic.
#5: Edith Pretty
Come to think of it, there’s a lot about Edith Pretty that the movie depicts incorrectly. Very little of her personality seemed to survive adaptation apart from her interest in archaeology. The real Edith was the kind of spirited non-conformist that we always want more of. She was worldly, and educated, worked for the Red Cross, saved marriage for later in life, and even served as a Suffolk Magistrate. Unfortunately, on screen Edith seems more defined by loneliness and ill-health than by her dynamic historical namesake. She was also 56 in 1939, twenty one years older than actress Carey Mulligan. Mulligan’s great, but with good parts for mature actresses so rare, we can’t think of a good excuse to age Edith down.
#4: Rory Lomax
Most of the characters we meet in “The Dig,” are based, however loosely, on real life participants in the Sutton Hoo excavation. Johnny Flynn’s Rory Lomax is the lone exception. His character appears as Edith’s photographer cousin, who is brought in to lend a hand on the dig. Well, that’s the narrative justification, anyway. Rory really exists for an illicit love story with just slightly more subtle than Edith’s implied crush on Basil. When he leaves to serve with the RAF late in the film he also ties the events of the plot into the bigger framework of World War II. Rory becomes the human face of the sacrifices of war in a way that the anonymous crash pilot couldn’t.
#3: Peggy Piggott
Peggy Piggott is another one who isn’t done much justice by her reinvention for “The Dig.” When we meet Peggy in the movie, her husband has interrupted their holiday to join the Sutton Hoo excavation, and Peggy herself is only an amateur whose initial contribution to the project is a lightweight one. Her main plot in the movie involves her growing attraction to Rory Lomax. Meanwhile, the real Peggy was a Cambridge educated professional archaeologist with considerable field experience to her name. She had even directed her first dig at the age of only 25. Peggy would go on to a long and respected career in archaeology. And though she did eventually divorce Stuart Piggott, it was years after Sutton Hoo.
#2: Conflict With Charles Phillips
Right and Wrong
When Charles Phillips shows up in the movie he is meant to be the face of the stuffy, elitist academic gatekeepers, and he and Brown are instantly at odds. That’s not necessarily accurate to Phillips as a person, but there are seeds of truth in the events surrounding his character. When Phillips was given control of the dig, Basil Brown was relegated to an assistant because of his lack of formal credentials. And despite his extensive contributions, Basil Brown’s name was initially left off the credit for the discovery. However, it wouldn’t be fair to call the relationship between the two men antagonistic. All evidence suggests they both held mutual respect for each other. But we suppose that’s not as dramatic.
#1: The Burial of Basil Brown
The most dramatic event of the “The Dig” is in the sudden collapse of one of the mounds. Basil is buried, only to be dug out by a panicked Edith and her staff. Carey Mulligan has described that scene as the most terrifying of her career as it was her responsibility to clear the dirt from Ralph Fiennes’ face. While we feel the tension very acutely while watching the movie, it must be noted for the sake of accuracy that this is yet another invention of the fictional retelling. Real life accounts of the dig do not record any collapse during the excavation. We can’t deny that it makes for an arresting visual though. Especially given the themes of the movie.