Gilbert Speaks on ‘The Dig’

What secrets does Mother Earth hold for us under her surface? Are you willing to put in the hard work to find out? That is exactly what Edith Pretty and Basil Brown did in The Dig, a true story about one of the most important archaeological discoveries of its time.


This is one of the best films I’ve watched this season. The Dig is a 2021 British drama based on the John Preston novel. It was directed by Simon Stone, and stars Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Dolan, Lilly James, Ken Stott, and Archie Barnes. Edith Pretty is curious as to what lies beneath the huge mounds that dot her estate in Sutton Hoo. A sickly widow, who is raising her young son (Archie Barnes), contacts a local archaeologist-excavator (Ralph Fiennes) to tackle the largest of the mounds. Basil Brown, at first, refuses because he doubts that they will find any significant artifacts, and he is getting paid more money by the Ipswich Museum.


Although she is wealthy, Edith’s (Carey Mulligan) life was not easy. As a young girl, Edith was interested in archaeology and wanted to go to the university, but her father opposed. She postponed marrying until after her sickly father passed away. Her marriage was short lived due to her husband succumbing to cancer, but the marriage did produce a very bright and inquisitive son. Edith is very sick, but her love of archaeology is as strong as ever. She has a hunch that there is something special under the largest of the mounds.


Basil is a self-taught archaeologist who hails from a humble working class. His love of excavating archaeological sites was encouraged by his father and grandfather. He works for the Ipswich Museum digging up ancient Roman sites, but because he doesn’t have a degree…he is not respected for his inborne sense and understanding of the ancient world. Basil trusts Edith’s instincts that there is something special waiting to be exposed…but they need to hurry because England is now at war with Germany…and there are two museums fighting over what treasures are to be found.


If you expected a story about archaeology to be boring, then you are in for a surprise. Basil and Edith pull us into the frenzy to uncover a most important discovery from the sixth century. The clock is ticking not only to uncover the artifacts before the bombing begins, but also to do this while Edith is still capable of directing the staff and excavators.

Mother Earth holds many secrets, and it is an adventure of a lifetime to learn what she hides. I have special place in my heart for this film because I worked for many years at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. While there, I had the opportunity to see firsthand all the important discoveries that are kept in the Academy’s huge collection. The Academy has the fossils of the first dinosaur discovered in North America…Hadrosaurus foulkii.  I was able to go on a few local digs with Academy scientists, and even took my grandchildren.

You can watch The Dig on Netflix. Watch it, then get your chisel and map, and go on an adventure. Check with local museums to see what digs they sponsor.

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