New Netflix film The Dig has just about everything you’d want from a good period drama: a moving script based on an incredible true story, some quietly beautiful locations, and above all, an excellent cast.
The film sees several of the country’s finest actors, including Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes and Lily James, play real-life figures who were involved in the famous Sutton Hoo excavation shortly before the Second World War.
Read on for everything you need to know about the cast, including details about who they’re playing, and where you might have seen them before.
Carey Mulligan plays Edith Pretty
Who was Edith Pretty? Edith was a wealthy widowed landowner who hired local archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate the mounds on her property in Suffolk, to find out if there is anything of value. She was also a single mother to Robert.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com about the character, Carey Mulligan said: “The more I learned about Edith the more excited I was to play her, because she was a really extraordinary person in real life.
“I felt that the most important thing was to focus on her core values and what she stood for and try and represent that.”
Learn more about The Dig true story.
What else has Carey Mulligan been in? Mulligan has appeared in a huge number of film and TV projects since first appearing on screen in the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice. Highlights in that time include Doctor Who episode Blink and films including An Education, Never Let Me Go, Drive, Shame, The Great Gatsby, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Promising Young Woman.
Ralph Fiennes plays Basil Brown
Who was Basil Brown? Local archeologist Basil Brown was responsible for discovering the 7th-century Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, after he was hired to investigate the property by Edith. He was often dismissed during his life by the professional archaeologists who took over the excavation after word spread of his discovery, and wasn’t properly recognised until later on.
Asked what drew him to the role, Ralph Fiennes told RadioTimes.com: “I think his quiet stoicism, his dedication to archaeology, the fact that he’s self-taught.”
“I loved the way Moria Beffini wrote his relationship with Edith Pretty, there’s something sort of gently passionate about him, an unassuming, quite humble man, but really determined… he was a quiet hero you know, I like that.
“And over the years I’ve been asked to play all sort of psychopathic or rather monstrous people and I love parts like this, quiet dedication but with a certain courage and persistence and his own kind of wisdom.”
What else has Ralph Fiennes been in? One of the most decorated British actors of his generation, Fiennes most prominent screen roles including Nazi war criminal Amon Göth in Schindler’s List, Count Almásy in The English Patient and Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films. He has played M in James Bond film since 2012’s Skyfall and other recent credits include The Grand Budapest Hotel, Hail Caesar!, and The White Crwo – which he also directed.
Lily James plays Peggy Preston
Who was Peggy Preston? Peggy was an archaeologist who worked on the Sutton Hoo excavation – and was the first person to unearth items of gold on the site. Despite being married to fellow archaeologist Stuart Piggot, she soon finds herself developing a romantic attachment to Rory Lomax in the film – although Rory is a fictional character.
What else has Lily James been in? Since making her breakthrough as Lady Rose Aldridge in Downton Abbey, James has become one of the most in-demand actors in the country, with highlights including the title role in Disney’s live-action Cinderella remake, Countess Natasha Rostova in BBC One’s six-part adaptation of War and Peace and Young Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Other film credits include Baby Driver, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Yesterday, and Rebecca.
Johnny Flynn plays Rory Lomax
Who was Rory Lomax? The only fictional character in the film, Rory is Edith Pretty’s nephew, who stays with her during the time of the discovery and excavation, before joining the RAF ahead of the Second World War. During the excavation, he becomes close with archaeologist Peggy Preston.
What else has Johnny Flynn been in? A successful musician in addition to his acting career, Flynn was recently seen playing David Bowie in the unauthorised biopic Stardust, while other screen credits have included Mr. Knightley in Emma, William Dobbin in ITV’s Vanity Fair and Dylan Witter in Channel 4 sitcom Lovesick.
Ben Chaplin plays Stuart Piggott
Who was Stuart Piggot? An archaeologist who plays a prominent part in The Dig, Stuart arrived at Sutton Hoo with his wife Peggy – but the pair soon find themselves drifting apart.
What else has Ben Chaplin been in? In addition to an accomplished stage career, Chaplin has appeared in a number of high profile films and TV shows throughout his career, including The Remains of the Day, The Thin Red Line, and The Children Act.
Ken Stott plays Charles Phillips
Who was Charles Phillips? A Cambridge-educated archaeologist, Charles Phillips contacted the British Museum after hearing of the Sutton Hoo discovery, and ended up taking over the excavation – assembling his own team and being rather hostile towards Basil Brown in the process.
What else has Ken Stott been in? Stott is perhaps best known as the title character DI John Rebus in the ITV adaptation of Ian Rankin’s crime novels, while other credits have included Balin in The Hobbit film trilogy and Ian Garrett in The Missing as well as roles in a number of other series and films.
Archie Barnes plays Robert Pretty
Who was Robert Pretty? Edith’s young son, Robert developed a close relationship with Basil Brown while he worked on the excavation, bonding over a shared interest in amateur astronomy.
What else has Archie Barnes been in? Barnes’ only previous screen experience came in 2018 family comedy Patrick, about a spoilt pug.
Monica Dolan plays May Brown
Who was May Brown? May was Basil’s wife, and had to spend long periods of time alone due to his dedication to his work.
What else has Monica Dolan been in? Dolan has a string of high-profile credits to her name, including a BAFTA-winning turn as Rosemary West in Appropriate Adult, a main role as Tracey Pritchard in W1A, and playing Marion Thorpe in A Very English Scandal, which earned her another BAFTA nomination. Film roles include Pride, The Falling and Eye in the Sky.