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The controversy surrounding new Netflix film The Dig explained

The film stars Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Johnny Flynn and Lily James

the dig controversy© Photo: Netflix
Eve Crosbie
TV & Film Writer
February 4, 2021
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The Dig recently landed on Netflix, and it seems that the new drama has everyone talking. 

MORE: Carey Mulligan responds to Promising Young Woman criticism: 'It stuck with me'

Set on the eve of WW2, the film tells the true story of the historic excavation of Sutton Hoo where a medieval burial ship full of treasures was found, and has received praise from both audiences and critics.

However, the film has been the subject of some criticism, namely the choice to cast Carey Mulligan as the wealthy widow Edith Pretty, a role that was originally intended for Nicole Kidman. When the Australian actress, 53, pulled out of the project, 35-year-old Carey stepped in to replace her.

WATCH: Carey Mulligan also stars in the Golden Globe-nominated Promising Young Woman

Many viewers took to Twitter to point out that at the time of the excavation in 1939, Edith was actually in her mid-fifties, and older than Basil Brown, the archaeologist played by Ralph Fiennes in the film.

"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," one viewer tweeted.

MORE: Carey Mulligan's farmhouse with Marcus Mumford is mammoth – see inside

MORE: Everything to know about Carey Mulligan's new film Promising Young Woman

MORE: The real reason Lily James didn't appear in the Downton Abbey film revealed

Someone else wrote: "In 1939 Basil Brown was 51 and Edith Pretty was older at 56. Why the 23 year age gap on people who were contemporaries in real life?" while a third added: "There are lots of great actresses of the right age group. As a viewer I would far rather watch a realistic portrayal, wrinkles and all!"

the dig carey mulligan ralph fiennes© Photo: Netflix

Edith Pretty was actually five years older than archaeologist Basil Brown

Another questioned: "Carey Mulligan did an excellent job, but what would have been lost if they'd cast an actress nearer to Pretty's age?"

Director Simon Stone has defended his choice to cast the Promising Young Woman actress in the role, telling the BBC: "The scope for departing from historical accuracy was already there", as the story is based on a novel that "doesn't purport to be absolutely accurate".

Elsewhere, the film has also been criticised for downplaying the importance of Lily James' character, Peggy Piggott. While in the film she is portrayed as inexperienced and unsure of herself, in real life by the time of the Sutton Hoo dig in 1939, Peggy had already headed up several excavations of her own.

the dig lily james© Photo: Netflix

The film has also been criticised for downplaying the importance of Lily James' character

"Her character appears as something of a sidekick to her older husband, Stuart. When the Piggotts arrive on-site, apparently newly married, only a nod is given to Peggy's expertise," wrote archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes in The Times.

However, John Preston, the author of the book the film is based on, and Peggy's own nephew, has supported the film's portrayal of Peggy, saying: "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."

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