Norfolk scenes cut from Netflix's Sutton Hoo film The Dig

THE DIG: RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

It is one of the most important archaeological finds in British history, and it was made right here in East Anglia. 

The 1939 excavation of the Anglo-Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk filled the Dark Ages with light and brought a previously little known chapter in our history into sharp relief. 

The story of the discovery is told in a new Netflix film called The Dig, to be released on January 29.

It stars Ralph Fiennes - who does an impressive East Anglian accent in the role of excavator Basil Brown; Carey Mulligan as owner of the Sutton Hoo land, Edith Pretty, and Lily James as archaeology student Peggy Preston.

THE DIG (L-R): DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, MIKE ELEY, RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN, DIRECTOR SIMON STON

On the set of The Dig, from left, director of photography Mike Eley, Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown and director Simon Stone. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

Although Ms James and co-star Ben Chaplin visited Norfolk to film Peggy's honeymoon on Cromer beach, pier and at the Hotel de Paris, those scenes unfortunately did not make it into the film.   


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Simon Stone, director, said it was a shame the Cromer sequence ended up on the cutting room floor.

He said: "The Cromer scenes are some of the most beautiful in the film and I'm incredible proud of them.

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"It's an astonishing thing that sometimes you have to get rid of some of the best scenes, because you have to slim down the narrative and keep the momentum going forward.

Lily James, in Cromer for the filming of the Netflix drama The Dig. Picture: Stuart Anderson

Lily James, in Cromer for the filming of the Netflix drama The Dig. Picture: Stuart Anderson - Credit: Archant

The Dig filming in Cromer, Lily James on set. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

The Dig filming in Cromer, Lily James on set. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Archant

"Unfortunately one of the ways to do that was to have the refreshing surprise of Lily James and Ben Chaplin’s characters turn up half way through the film rather than be present from the very beginning.

"And that meant that their entire - as scripted - honeymoon, disappeared from the film. It's a real shame because I had so much fun being there.

"I'm sure at some point when the deleted scenes are revealed to the world you'll see what I mean."

THE DIG (L-R): CAREY MULLIGAN as EDITH PRETTY, RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETF

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

Mr Stone said what he loved about Cromer was its sense of timelessness, and how it harked back to a golden era of British seaside holidays, which in post-Covid times could well be repeated. 

Almost all of the film’s main characters are based on real people who were involved in the Sutton Hoo discovery. 

Mr Fiennes, who was born and raised in Suffolk until he was six, said he felt “moved” when delving into the history after first reading the script for The Dig.

THE DIG. CAREY MULLIGAN as EDITH PRETTY, RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN, in THE DIG: Cr. LARRY HORRIC

Cast and crew members of The Dig, including Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, centre, on the set of the burial ship excavation. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

Amateur photographs of the Sutton Hoo ship excavations taken during the summer of 1939 by two school

Amateur photographs of the Sutton Hoo ship excavations were taken during the summer of 1939 by two school teachers, Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack. Pictured is Basil Brown at the site. - Credit: The British Museum

Basil Brown at Sutton Hoo.

Basil Brown at Sutton Hoo. - Credit: Suffolk Archaeological Unit



He said: “The whole story feels, not amateur, but accidental. A lady of means decides to excavate some burial mounds in her garden, and uses a self-taught archaeologist to see what might be there.

"Basil left school at 12, he was an incredibly intelligent, incredibly dedicated self-taught man. His life is an amazing story.”

Ms James' character was the aunt of John Preston, who wrote a 2007 book from which The Dig was adapted.

THE DIG: LILY JAMES as PEGGY PRESTON. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

Lily James as Peggy Preston in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

She said: "[Peggy Preston] was a fascinating person. Most of what I learned about her was through the book. At the National Trust in Suffolk where Sutton Hoo is there was an amazing exhibition with photographs of her down in the mud, surrounded by men."

The Dig meditates on the evolving story of humankind - how we are but chapters in the same volume that stretches from antiquity to the Second World War and beyond. But individual lives are fleeting and chances must be seized - as Peggy discovers. 

THE DIG (L-R): JOHNNY FLYNN as RORY LOMAX, LILY JAMES as PEGGY PRESTON. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX ©

Johnny Flynn as Rory Lomax and Lily James as Peggy Preston in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

Mr Stone said he could see some parallels between the film's wartime backdrop and how society is today dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. 

He said: "[The film] has a strong message of the importance of solidarity in times of crisis. You can feel that uncertainty and fear bringing people together in the movie rather than driving them apart.

"I think that's a great lesson for us right now, and it's a hopeful message that what we do in moments like this will echo through history." 

Sutton who? The king behind the legend

The burial ship found at Sutton Hoo is believed to be the final resting place of East Anglian king Rædwald, who ruled over Norfolk and Suffolk from about 599 until 624. 

The iconic helmet and some treasures believed to have belonged to him are - in normal times - on show at the British Museum. 

Sutton Hoo re-created helmet

A recreation of the famous helmet found at Sutton Hoo, believed to have belonged to Rædwald, King of East Anglia. - Credit: National Trust

A warrior helmet that is one of the treasures that are on display at the exhibition centre at Sutton

The helmet found at Sutton Hoo, believed to have belonged to Rædwald, King of East Anglia. - Credit: PA/National Trust

Rædwald was the most powerful English king south of the Humber during his reign and was also the first East Anglian king to covert to Christianity.

He once fought a fierce battle on the River Idle against the Northumbrians, in which he is said to have stormed the enemy lines and killed the opposing king, Æthelfrith, after his own son was slain.

For centuries it was unknown what lay under his burial mound until Mrs Pretty employed the self-taught Mr Brown to excavate the site. A British Museum-led team joined the dig after its huge significance was established.

Mrs Pretty later donated the treasure found at Sutton Hoo to the museum, making her one of its all-time biggest benefactors. 

The Dig

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. - Credit: Larry Horricks/Netflix

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Lily James as Peggy Preston in The Dig.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Lily James as Peggy Preston in The Dig. - Credit: Netflix

THE DIG (L-R): RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN, CAREY MULLIGAN as EDITH PRETTY. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETF

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

THE DIG (L-R): BEN CHAPLIN as STUART PIGGOTT, LILY JAMES as PEGGY PRESTON. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLI

Ben Chaplin as Stuart Piggott and Lily James as Peggy Preston in The Dig. The pair play a major role in the film and travelled to Cromer to film some scenes, which did not make the final cut. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

THE DIG: JOHNNY FLYNN as RORY LOMAX. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

Johnny Flynn as Rory Lomax in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

THE DIG (L-R): CAREY MULLIGAN as EDITH PRETTY, RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETF

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX

DIG_20191008-2769.RAF

Ralph Fiennes has the leading role The Dig, playing excavator Basil Brown. - Credit: Netflix

THE DIG. SIMON STONE, RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN, in THE DIG: Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

On the set of The Dig in Suffolk. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

THE DIG: LILY JAMES as PEGGY PRESTON. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

Lily James as Peggy Preston in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 


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