Netflix has been met with criticism for casting lead actress Carey Mulligan as a woman in her 50s in new film The Dig.
The screen star, 35, plays 56-year-old landowner Edith Pretty – a role originally intended for Nicole Kidman, 53 – in the movie, which is based on John Preston’s 2007 novel about the unearthing of the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo in 1939.
Viewers took to Twitter to question the network’s decision as one asked: ‘Wasn’t there an actor of the correct age?’, while another claimed ‘women over 40 are still invisible in the culture’.
Director Simon Stone has previously defended the thespian’s portrayal, stating: ‘The novel departs from the truth in a lot of aspects and doesn’t purport to be absolutely accurate, so the scope for departing from historical accuracy was already there.’
‘Wasn’t there an actress of the correct age?’ Netflix has been slammed for casting lead actress Carey Mulligan (L) as a woman in her 50s in new film The Dig (R: Edith Pretty aged 56 in 1939)
Controversial: The screen star, 35, plays landowner Edith in the movie – based on John Preston’s novel about the unearthing of the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo in 1939
‘Women over 40 are still invisible in the culture’: Viewers took to Twitter to question the network’s decision
What was the Sutton Hoo find and how was it discovered?
In 1939, as tensions were rising in Europe and Britain was on the brink of the Second World War, Edith Pretty became increasingly fascinated with the large grass-covered mounds in the grounds of her home.
Unable to ignore her interest any longer, she reached out to the museum in the nearby Suffolk town of Ipswich in 1937, who sent excavation assistant Basil Brown.
Over three months he excavated a 1,300-year-old ship, helped by the estate’s gamekeeper and gardener, employed by Mrs Pretty for £1.50 per day.
Experts from The British Museum intervened as news of the find got out, and Anglo-Saxon archaeological expert Charles Phillips tried to dismiss Mr Brown from the dig.
He argued Mr Brown’s lack of training was not suitable for the significance of the find.
He was also concerned, with Britain on the brink of war, that the dig would not be completed and the precious history would not be preserved before war broke out.
But Mrs Pretty fought Mr Brown’s corner and he continued the excavation in the face of protest. And as he dug, he found what was once the boat’s treasure chamber, hidden under a large iron ring.
When the spectacular artefacts began to emerge from the mud, Mr Brown was removed from the dig as the experts took over, and was instead consigned to removing wheelbarrows of dirt from the site.
A new team of archeologists was brought in by Phillips, including Stuart Piggott and his young wife Peggy.
The team pulled a haul of 263 ornate treasures from the earth in the Suffolk field.
The most-precious find of all was a sculpted full-face helmet, leading archologists to conclude the site was the final resting place of a 7th-century royal, probably Raedwald, a king of East Anglia.
Some of the treasures dated back to the Byzantine Empire, while some had travelled to Suffolk from the East, such as some jewellery set with Sri Lankan garnets.
Poldark star Beatie Edney, 58, expressed her frustration at The Dig as she wrote on the platform: ‘They just won’t allow women over 40 on the screen, will they?
‘In my experience, you’re either cast because you’re f***able and then rarely work until you’re a granny. We are 51 per cent of the population and still invisible in the culture.’
Yorkshire collective Behind the Woman echoed Beatie’s comments as they added: ‘It’s a crying shame to think of the wonderful actresses over 50 that could’ve played Mrs Pretty.
‘As long as women in their 30s play women in their 50s it perpetuates our invisibility.’
Former EastEnders actress Kacey Ainsworth, 52, responded: ‘I feel v lucky to be in a show where both of the longest regular cast members are over 50 but it’s a rarity.’
Other viewers shared: ‘I watched The Dig last night on @netflix and it left me wondering why an actor in their early/mid 30’s (Carey Mulligan) was cast as Edith who at the time must have been a 56/57 year old woman.
‘I just watched and enjoyed @netflix’s #TheDig. I think Carey Mulligan did a great job as Edith Pretty. However, Mrs. Pretty was 55 at the beginning of the dig. Why cast a 35-year-old actress in her role? Are #women in their fifties really that dispensable? Still?
‘I enjoyed The Dig (on @netflix), but gosh what a missed opportunity to cast an age-appropriate actor to play the 55-year-old Edith Pretty, instead of the lovely but definitely-in-her-early-30’s Carey Mulligan.
‘I’m watching ‘The Dig’ about the Sutton Hoo discovery. It’s really interesting! A bit along the lines of Downton Abbey. My one complaint currently is that, at the time of the Sutton Hoo discovery, Edith Pretty was 54 years old. Carey Mulligan, the actress playing her, is 35.
‘About ‘The Dig’ – lovely film! Two problems with women: 1 – the women – Mercie Lack & Barbara Wagstaff – who actually did the photography are replaced by ‘Cousin Hugo’; 2 – Carey Mulligan is mid-30s, Edith Pretty was mid-50s – was there no actor of the correct age…
‘Watched The Dig last night and enjoyed it. But. In 1939 Basil Brown (played by Ralph Fiennes, 58) was 51 and Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan, 35) was older at 56. Why the 23 year age gap on people who were contemporaries in real life?’.
Others commended the TV, film and stage star’s performance as they wrote on the micro-blogging site: ‘Just watched an absolutely beautiful film on Netflix called ‘The Dig’ with Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan. It’s a proper film RS.
‘The Dig (2021) Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan deliver a great performance and a beautifully shot movie and score…This is probably the first movie you’d want to watch this year.
‘Absolutely loved the watching ‘The Dig’ on @netflix with @____fiennes____ and Carey Mulligan. Sterling performances. Having been to Sutton Hoo it made this film even more special for me. Keen to return ‘one day’.’ (sic)
On being ‘aged-up’ for the film, Carey recently told the BBC: ‘I suppose there is an age disparity between me and the real-life character, but then the sense of her I think was the most important thing.
‘I was aged-up slightly with make-up to try and split the difference a little bit,’ she continues. But it was more important to honour Edith’s character and the humble, generous, extraordinary woman she was.’
plays 56-year-old landowner Edith Pretty – a role originally intended for Nicole Kidman, 53 – in the movie,
‘The scope for departing from accuracy was already there’: Director Simon Stone previously defended the thespian’s portrayal (Carey pictured with Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown)
A better fit? The role was originally intended for Nicole Kidman (pictured in 2020), 53, but she pulled out of the project in 2019
Impressive: Edith donated the entire find – including a king’s ornate iron helmet (pictured) – to the nation and it went on display at the British Museum in 1951
‘This is probably the first movie you’d want to watch this year!’ Others commended the TV, film and stage star’s performance
Simon’s film was initially set up with BBC Films, but Australian actress Nicole pulled out of the project shortly before Netflix took over the production.
Edith is a wealthy widow in declining health who had long wondered what might lie under the burial mounds on her land in Suffolk.
The film is inspired by the real story of the Sutton Hoo 1939 finds which went on to become one of the most important archaeological finds in Britain.
It is hailed as Britain’s ‘Tutankhamun’, and to this day the cache is renowned around the world.
More than 260 items of treasure were recovered in the haul, including weapons, armour coins, jewellery, gold buckles, patterned plaques and silver cutlery.
The most-precious find of all was a sculpted full-face helmet, leading archaeologists to conclude the site was the final resting place of a 7th-century royal, probably Raedwald, a king of East Anglia.
In 1939 – as tensions were rising in Europe and Britain was on the brink of the Second World War – Edith became increasingly fascinated with the large grass-covered mounds in the grounds of her home.
The former nurse, who served in France during World War I, had lived in an Edwardian house on the Sutton Hoo estate, near Woodbridge on the estuary of the River Deben, since 1926.
Unable to ignore her interest any longer, she reached out to the museum in the nearby Suffolk town of Ipswich in 1937, who sent excavation assistant Basil Brown.
The self-taught archaeologists had left school at 12, but had a thirst for knowledge, was a keen linguist and a life-long passion for historical artefacts.
Basil kept diaries of the digs at Sutton Hoo, and his records show he first discovered human remains and some artefacts in a number of the burial mounds.
But in the summer of 1939 he turned his attention to the largest earth mound, known as Tumulus One.
Over three months he excavated a 1,300-year-old ship, helped by the estate’s gamekeeper and gardener, employed by Edith for £1.50 per day.
Award-winning actor Ralph Fiennes steps into the role of Basil, the self-taught local archaeologist sent by the Ipswich Museum to help her findings, while Lily James plays Peggy Piggott, the wife of one of his proteges, Stuart Piggott (Ben Chaplin).
Basil leads the excavations, until the abrupt arrival of imperious academic Charles Phillips – played by Ken Stott – who attempts to claim the site for the British Museum.
Backlash: The Dig was also branded sexist for reducing experienced archaeologist Peggy Piggott (pictured R) to a ‘bumbling sidekick to her husband’ (L: Lily James as Peggy)
Award-winning actor Ralph (L) steps into the role of Basil, the self-taught local archaeologist sent by the Ipswich Museum to help her findings
When her husband appears disinterested in her – for reasons she can’t understand let alone articulate – Peggy starts falling for Edith’s cousin, dashing airman Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn).
The Dig was also slammed as sexist for reducing an experienced archaeologist to a ‘bumbling, deferential, sidekick to her husband’.
Lily’s character Peggy – who was two years younger than her husband – unearthed with her trowel a small gold and garnet pyramid, the first exciting glimpse of bejewelled treasure.
But top archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes said the film portrays her as ‘something of a sidekick to her older husband, Stuart’ when Peggy was, in fact, highly experienced.
She told The Times: ‘On the whole she is presented as deferential, even bumbling, putting her foot through a hollow feature.’
Novelist John – the nephew of the late prehistorian said allegations that she appears ‘bumbling’ are false.
He said: ‘She was 27 when she did the dig in real life so to suggest that she was a grizzled professional is pushing it a bit.’
MailOnline has contacted Netflix and Carey’s representatives for further comment.
Picking fact from fiction in new Netflix drama The Dig: From the Spitfire that NEVER crashed at Sutton Hoo site to archaeologist Peggy Piggott’s totally INVENTED lover used to spice up plot
It was a haul of treasure hailed upon its discovery as Britain’s ‘Tutankhamun’.
The 86ft Anglo-Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, was unearthed in 1939.
More than 260 items were discovered, including weapons, armour, coins, jewellery, gold buckles, patterned plaques and silver cutlery.
New Netflix film The Dig, starring Lily James, Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, dramatises the find and delves into the lives of those involved in the excavation.
Archaeologists Basil Brown, Peggy and Stuart Piggott and Charles Philips, as well as landowner Edith Pretty and her 12-year-old son Robert are all portrayed in the film.
The new release has received positive reviews from most critics and is popular with viewers, but just how does it match up to reality?
Below, MailOnline delves into key scenes and story twists and compares them with what really happened.
In 1939 the imprint of an 86ft Anglo-Saxon ship was found in Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk. More than 260 items of treasure were also recovered in the haul, including this helmet, leading the important historical discovery to be hailed as Britain’s ‘Tutankhamun’
The WWII plane that dramatically crashed near the burial site
The events in The Dig took place just before the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939.
Mid-way through the film – after the remains of the ship and its treasures have been uncovered at the burial mound – a spluttering Spitfire glides over the excavators before crashing in the nearby river.
Ralph Fiennes’s Basil Brown and others then rush from the burial mound to the river before photographer Rory Lomax, played by Johnny Flynn, is seen diving in to the water to pull the pilot’s body from the plane’s wreckage.
Mid-way through the film – after the remains of the ship and its treasures have been uncovered at the burial mound – a spluttering Spitfire glides over the excavators before crashing in the nearby river
Ralph Fiennes’s Basil Brown and others then rush from the burial mound to the river before photographer Rory Lomax, played by Johnny Flynn, is seen diving in to the water to pull the pilot’s body from the plane’s wreckage
Peggy Piggott, played by Lily James, is then seen telling a distressed Lomax that the pilot’s name was David Atkinson, and that it was his second solo flight.
However, this element of the film’s storyline is largely invented.
A plane did crash into the River Deben, near the Sutton Hoo site, but it was an American B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, rather than what appeared to be a Spitfire in the film, and it did not happen until late in the Second World War.
And whereas there were two survivors in real life – and no one from the excavation dived in to the water – the film depicts the pilot’s death.
Peggy Piggot’s lover Rory Lomax
The plane crash provides the way in to the first signs of romantic interest between Lilly James’s Peggy and photographer Rory.
Rory – who is portrayed as Edith Pretty’s cousin – is seen inviting Peggy back to his tent for coffee before they engage in a romantic clinch later in the film.
However, these scenes are entirely fictional and the character of Rory is invented.
What’s more, The Dig hints that Peggy’s husband, fellow archaeologist Stuart Piggott, is more interested in fellow male excavator John Brailsford (Eamon Farren) than he is in his wife.
The plane crash provides the way in to the first signs of romantic interest between Lilly James’s Peggy and photographer Rory, played by Johnny Flynn. Rory – who is Edith Pretty’s cousin – is seen inviting Peggy back to his tent for coffee before they engage in a romantic clinch later in the film
The Dig hints that Peggy’s husband, fellow archaeologist Stuart Piggott – played by Ben Chaplin (pictured) is more interested in fellow male excavator John Brailsford (Eamon Farren) than he is in his wife
Towards the end of the film, he is seen telling his wife that he could ‘learn to be’ happy with her.
But she tenderly tells him that ‘I think that would be an awful shame’ before urging him to join his friends – who include Brailsford – at the pub.
There are then romantic scenes between Peggy and Rory, after he learns that he has been called up to fight in the war.
In reality, although Peggy and Stuart did divorce in 1954, his sexuality has never been documented and there is no record of any romantic relationship between him and another excavator besides his wife.
Peggy Piggott portrayed as a bumbling sidekick to her husband
Peggy and Stuart are portrayed in the film as being newly-weds, whereas they had married three years earlier, in 1936.
The female archaeologist is portrayed in the film as a ‘sidekick’ to her older, more experienced, husband.
But in reality, she was experienced in her own right.
Peggy Piggott (shown left) is portrayed in the film as a ‘sidekick’ to her older, more experienced, husband (right, Stuart Piggott). In reality, she was highly experienced herself
Top archaeologist Rebecca Wragg complained about the portrayal, telling The Times: ‘On the whole she is presented as deferential, even bumbling, putting her foot through a hollow feature.’
Before arriving to help with the dig, Peggy had obtained both a diploma from Cambridge and a postgraduate diploma from the Institute of Archaeology, in 1936.
Basil Brown nearly dying when a burial mound collapses on him
Near the beginning of the film, before the treasures are discovered, archaeologist Basil Brown nearly dies when part of a mound collapses on him.
Landowner Edith Pretty and other excavators then rush to dig him out of the soil.
He is then seen covered in dirt as he is pulled from the mound of earth before being revived.
However, there is no record of any such misfortune befalling Brown or any other of the excavators.
Near the beginning of the film, before the treasures are discovered, archaeologist Basil Brown nearly dies when part of a mound collapses on him
Landowner Edith Pretty and other excavators then rush to dig him out of the soil
The ‘amateur’ Basil Brown and his difficult relationship with professional archaeologists
Basil Brown – who was not formally qualified but is immensely experienced – is seen in the film being sidelined by the other professional archaeologists who arrive later.
He is also seen to have a difficult relationship with Cambridge University academic Charles Phillips, who has been sent by the British museum.
However, while there was some tension between the pair initially, they did work well together and formed a relationship described by National Trust experts as one of ‘collaboration and mutual respect’.
Mrs Pretty hired self-taught archologist Basil Brown (left), played by Ralph Fiennes in the upcoming film (right), for £1.50 per day to investigate unusual mounds of earth on her property
He is also seen to have a difficult relationship with Cambridge University academic Charles Phillips, who has been sent by the British museum. Pictured: Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty, alongside Lily James and Ken Stott, who plays Charles Phillips
In the first major account of events of the Sutton Hoo dig – published in 1940 -Philips praised Brown as having ‘commendable care and skill’ in excavating the ship.
In the film, Brown is seen storming off the dig after being told by Philips that he must not set foot in the ship without his permission.
However, there is no record of any such falling out.
Hint of romance between Edith Pretty and Basil Brown
Basil Brown and Edith have a good relationship in the film and come close to becoming romantically involved.
At one point they are set to go out to dinner together before Brown cancels because his wife Dorothy unexpectedly arrives.
It is made to appear that she is slightly disappointed and had been hoping of some sort of romantic moment with the excavator.
However, there is no record of there being any romantic feelings between Brown and Pretty, though they did work well together.
Dorothy Brown even wrote a letter to Pretty to thank her for giving her husband the opportunity to work on the dig.
This post was first published on DailyMail.