Sutton Hoo, the English Tutankhamun

With cinemas, theaters, the opera, concert halls and museums closed and closed, the British cultural offering is currently limited to literature and movies on Netflix and similar platforms. In this last category stands out The excavation, starring Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, which tells the story of the English Tutankhamun, the discovery of Sutton Hoo’s treasure in the Suffolk countryside in 1939, at the dawn of World War II.

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Nicole Kidman initially accepted the role of Edith Pretty, but abandoned the project and was played by Carey Mulligan.

Seventeen years before, in the Valley of the Kings on the banks of the Nile, the archaeologist Howard Carter had found the tomb of the pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, a story that had fascinated the whole world and also Edith Pretty, a 56-year-old widow and failing health, in his mansion in eastern England, where he lived with his son Frederick and the typical grumpy butler, in the middle of a routine abandoned only for occasional visits to the doctor in London. After initially accepting the role of Pretty, Nicole Kidman left the project, and the character fell on Carey Mulligan.


Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes in ‘The Dig’


In the Egypt of the pharaohs, the problem had been unbearable heat, with temperatures frequently exceeding forty degrees. In Suffolk, it was the cold and the persistent rain, which forced to cover the excavations with a tarp and install a kind of wagon to shelter from the inclement weather and be able to have tea in peace. The epicenter of the film is the relationship between the widow Pretty, who has a hunch that the mounds in her fields contain some secret, and Basil Brown, the amateur archaeologist, older than her, who learned the trade from her father, despised by museum experts, and who defines himself as an “excavator.”

Sutton Hoo was the tomb of the Anglo-Saxon King Raedwando, four centuries before the Norman conquest of England

The excavation It is not a conventional film, which does not reach its climax with the discovery of the skeleton of the Anglo-Saxon ship, and later its treasure, but rather happens in the middle of the film. From there, the story evolves into secondary characters, as young men are called up, planes fly over fields, and Britain enters the war.

The 27-meter-long funeral ship was already disintegrated when Basil Brown made the discovery

Sutton Hoo was the tomb of the Anglo-Saxon King Raedwando, four centuries before the Norman conquest of England. The treasures with which he was buried (helmet, battle uniform, sword, Byzantine silverware, gold jolys …) are exhibited in the British Museum (currently closed due to the pandemic), and show that the England of the time, far from being a primitive land, it was connected with the Scandinavian countries, Constantinople and Egypt. The funeral ship (27 meters long) was already disintegrated when Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) made the discovery, leaving only the marks on the ground. There is a project to rebuild it.

This image released by Netflix shows Director of Photography Mike Eley, from left, actor Ralph Fiennes and Director Simon Stone on the set of

Director of Photography Mike Eley, Ralph Fiennes and Director Simon Stone filming ‘The Excavation’


Eddith Pretty, the landowner in whose fields the excavations were carried out, was also the daughter of an amateur archaeologist (somewhat linked to Basil) who had found the ruins of a Cistercian abbey. During World War I she served as a nurse, and in 1926 she married and bought the property called Sutton Hoo with her husband. She had her only child when she was 47 years old, and shortly after she was left a widow. She died in 42, just three years after the events she recounts The excavation. Artifacts from the Anglo-Saxon treasure remained hidden in an abandoned London Underground station until the conflict ended.

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