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Ralph Fiennes plays Rickinghall man who discovered Sutton Hoo in Netflix film

PUBLISHED: 12:13 13 September 2019

Rickinghall self-taught Sutton Hoo archaeologist Basil Brown who is to subject of a new Netflix film. Picture: Suffolk Archaeological Unit

Rickinghall self-taught Sutton Hoo archaeologist Basil Brown who is to subject of a new Netflix film. Picture: Suffolk Archaeological Unit

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Basil Brown was a self-taught archaeologist who confounded the experts when he unearthed one of the most significant archaeological finds in British history.

Ralph Fiennes is to portray Sutton Hoo achaeologist Basil Brown in Netflix film The Dig. Picture: PA ImagesRalph Fiennes is to portray Sutton Hoo achaeologist Basil Brown in Netflix film The Dig. Picture: PA Images

The farmer and wheelwright's son, who lived in Rickinghall, near Diss, was employed by Edith Pretty to probe the mysteries of the 18 or so earth mounds on her land at Sutton Hoo only to discover a treasure trove including a Saxon burial ship.

This month filming is under way in Suffolk on The Dig, a Netflix film based on the world famous discovery starring Ralph Fiennes as Basil and Carey Mulligan as Mrs Pretty.

Mrs Edith Pretty, the owner of Sutton Hoo estate who is to be played by Carey Mulligan. Picture: National Trust/PA ImagesMrs Edith Pretty, the owner of Sutton Hoo estate who is to be played by Carey Mulligan. Picture: National Trust/PA Images

The film, which has been in development for some time, with Nicole Kidman originally lined up to play Mrs Pretty, will focus on the partnership between the landowner and the archaeologist who first propelled the legendary excavation into existence and will be a tale of love, loss and hope.

Born at Bucklesham, near Ipswich, in 1888, Basil Brown began work at Sutton Hoo in the early summer of 1938. He was released from his work for Ipswich Museum, lodged with Edith's chauffeur, and was paid 30 shillings a week by the landowner.

Sutton Hoo excavations in 1939 with Basil Brown (back) Charles Philips (left) and Barbara Wagstaff at work. Picture: British MuseumSutton Hoo excavations in 1939 with Basil Brown (back) Charles Philips (left) and Barbara Wagstaff at work. Picture: British Museum

In spring of 1939, helped by gardener John Jacobs and gamekeeper William Spooner, the focus was on the largest mound. Within a few weeks they came across ancient iron rivets. Patient work uncovered an impression of an Anglo-Saxon ship that would turn out to be 27m long.

The importance of the discovery quickly became clear and Basil was effectively sidelined and had to give way to national archaeology 'experts'.

The world famous Saxon helmet unearthed at Sutton Hoo. Picture: British MuseumThe world famous Saxon helmet unearthed at Sutton Hoo. Picture: British Museum

The new film is being directed by Australian Simon Stone and produced by Gabrielle Tana whose previous credits include Philomena, while Jane Eyre playwright and Harlots creator Moira Buffini is overseeing the script.

After Sutton Hoo, Basil was again employed by Ipswich Museum. In 1952 he made excavations in Rickinghall uncovering a Norman font at one local church and a chapel at another.

Achaeologist Basil Brown working at Rickinghall in Feburary 1964. Picture: Suffolk Archaeological UnitAchaeologist Basil Brown working at Rickinghall in Feburary 1964. Picture: Suffolk Archaeological Unit

He retired in 1961 but he wasn't yet done with archaeology. He carried out further excavations in the Rickinghall area until the late 1960s. He died in the village in 1977, aged 89.

He might not have received enough credit for the Sutton Hoo discoveries, but a small cul-de-sac in Rickinghall bears his name and there is a plaque in the village church.

The Basil Brown memorial plaque at Rickinghall Inferior Church (St Mary's). Picture: Phil MorleyThe Basil Brown memorial plaque at Rickinghall Inferior Church (St Mary's). Picture: Phil Morley

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