New Netflix drama The Dig, which explores the real-life story of the discovery of the Anglo-Saxon ship at Sutton Hoo, has been accused of misrepresenting one of the men who uncovered it.
The National Trust, which is the custodian of the site, has said that the role of local man Basil Brown, played by Ralph Fiennes, may have been ‘over-romanticised’, while Charles Phillips of the British Museum was not the pompous academic who stole away the discovery.
In the movie, Carey Mulligan’s character, the Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty, hires self-taught archeologist Brown to investigate the burial mounds on her estate.
He later clashes with the pompous Cambridge-educated archeologist Phillips, played by Ken Stott, who arrives to take over the dig on behalf of the Office of Works, deeming the location of national importance.
“Basil started this project. He was the one who revealed the character of the ship’s burial, who sensitively revealed the fossil of the ship,” Laura Howarth, archaeology manager for the National Trust, told The Daily Telegraph.
“But I think we are in danger sometimes of over-romanticising his involvement, although he was very well-respected, and his capabilities and what he’d done up to that point were commended by others.”
In the film, Phillips dismisses Brown, who left school at 12, and takes over the excavation.
Dr Sue Brunning, curator of the British Museum’s European early medieval and Sutton Hoo collections, added: “They were quite different people, but they buried the hatchet quite quickly.
“It’s a great story: the self-taught person versus the professional archaeologist, the local people versus the Establishment. But certainly, when we look at the diaries of the two men, the relationship between them seems to have been fairly good.
“I can see why they emphasised that central tension in the film – it’s entertainment. There are elements of artistic license. We should remember that these were real people who are not around to answer for themselves, and we should approach it with the attitude that it is a piece of drama. The reality was a little bit more complicated.”
The movie, while also stars Lily James, was released on Netflix last week, to solid reviews.