Skip to main content

Carey Mulligan feared she'd killed Ralph Fiennes while making 'The Dig'!

Carey Mulligan The Dig.
Carey Mulligan plays an aristocratic widow in Netflix film The Dig. (Image credit: Netflix)

Carey Mulligan stars opposite Ralph Fiennes in The Dig, a new Netflix film telling the real life tale of one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries in British history. 

Mulligan plays aristocratic widow, Edith Pretty, who hires self-taught archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes, The Harry Potter film series) to excavate the ancient mounds on her Suffolk estate. 

With the world teetering on the brink of war in the summer of 1939, the story follows Basil as he unearths a 7th century Anglo-Saxon burial ship, believed to be the grave of King Raedwald of East Anglia. 

The find at Sutton Hoo was one of the most celebrated archaeological finds in history and changed how scholars viewed the Dark Ages. 

We caught up with Carey Mulligan, who has appeared in Hollywood blockbusters such as The Great Gatsby and Drive, to find out more about this unique project. 

On the connection between Edith Pretty and Basil Brown...

Carey Mulligan was first attracted to the project due to the special bond that grows between the two lead characters. Rather than a romantic connection, Edith Pretty and Basil Brown share a friendship built on mutual respect and a shared passion for archaeology. 

"It’s rare enough to find the roles that aren’t the wife or the girlfriend, so to be someone who wasn’t defined by a relationship was a really good starting point," she explains. "But there was something about their relationship that I found really exciting, because it was based on mutual appreciation for things.

"They weren't from the same background, but despite their different circumstances they found a connection. They got to the point where they can sit in silence, there’s something so beautiful about that."

Ralph Fiennes The Dig.

Ralph Fiennes plays Basil Brown in this real life story of the archaeological dig at Sutton Hoo.  (Image credit: Netflix)

On fearing she'd killed Ralph Fiennes...

Carey Mulligan remembers one particular scene of the film, in which Basil Brown is buried alive in the mud when the walls of the trench he has dug into the mound collapse in on him and it's up to the rest of the cast to dig him out... 

"I did feel a certain pressure to not be responsible for the demise of one of our greatest living actors," says Carey. "I was scrabbling, but I was scrabbling relatively gently as i didn’t want to scratch his face. When the director put me in charge of his face, I felt the pressure was on as the rest of the actors had to uncover a hat or an arm! 

"It was an incredible shot they were going for and we had to bury him a number of times, which wasn’t particularly pleasant for him. I was very relieved when he was out and we didn’t have to bury him again!"

On being aged up for the role... 

Carey Mulligan was 35 at the time of filming, which is over 20 years younger than Edith Pretty was in the summer of 1939 and needed to be aged up for the role. 

"They would make me scrunch up my forehead and my eyes and very delicately paint in some more lines. It was, you know, an ego bash," she says. "Not fun to look in the mirror, but a fun part of the prep."

What's more, the aristocratic widow had led a full-life before the events of the film took place, serving as a Red Cross nurse in France in WWI, and was well-educated, well-travelled and adventurous.

"She was a remarkable woman and very generous," explains Carey. "It's great that we get to tell her story." 

On looking back through history... 

Carey Mulligan was blown away by the timing of the discovery at Sutton Hoo, as Edith Pretty's estate was used as a military training base during the war, which started just months after the Anglo-Saxon burial ship was unearthed. 

"The treasure was almost lost forever and there was something incredible about that," she explains. "There was something very moving about these people coming together to rescue a part of our history so we could learn more about ourselves. the sense of wonder they felt at finding a ship that had been dragged there over 1,000 years ago must have been unbelievable."

"That felt like something I hadn’t seen on screen and that sense of wonder or awe was so special. Sadly we don’t live in awe everyday, but perhaps we should!" 

The Dig arrives on Netflix on Friday 29 January