09 February 2021

Could Netflix follow ‘The Dig’
with a film in Lichfield on
the Staffordshire Hoard?

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest-ever find of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver … could Netflix make a follow-up to ‘The Dig’?

Patrick Comerford

The Pandemic lockdown means that in the evenings I have watched more drama series and more movies on Netflix than I expected. The latest series to watch was Bridgerton, following The Crown, Unorthodox, Emily in Paris and The Queen’s Gambit, and the latest film was The Dig, telling the story of the Anglo-Saxon find in a field near Sutton Hoo in Suffolk in 1939.

The film should attract anyone interested in history and archaeology. But the Guardian reported on Saturday [6 February 2021] how archaeologists at the British Museum and National Trust have experienced a surge in interest in Sutton Hoo. For a while, this was Netflix’s No 1 most watched film in the UK.

Dr Sue Brunning, the curator of the Early Mediaeval Europe Collections, at the British Museum, spotted early last week how #SuttonHoo is trending on Twitter interest in Sutton Hoo has surged since the recent launch of The Dig on Netflix. Dr Brunning advised the actors and filmmakers behind the production of The Dig.

Traffic to the museum’s web pages about the treasure has tripled, and a video recorded by Dr Brunning about the Sutton Hoo helmet, reconstructed from fragments discovered in the grave, has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times in the past month. For a while, the film was Netflix’s No 1 most watched in the UK. Her blog about the discovery has crashed due to the exceptional volume of hits, and her email inbox and Twitter feed have been swamped with inquiries.

There has been a similar rise in interest at the site of Sutton Hoo, Laura Howarth, the archaeology and engagement manager at the site, told the Guardian. This new wave of interest extends to the house and grounds once owned by Edith Pretty, portrayed by Carey Mulligan, who commissioned a self-taught local archaeologist, Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), to excavate the large mounds on her land.

Sutton Hoo is managed by the National Trust. Although the visitor centre and the Pretty house are currently closed, there has been a surge of interest in their website and social media channels, and more people are walking the field, eager to see where the real-life Brown worked, eventually with a team of other archaeologists, more than 80 years ago.

Both Dr Brunning and Ms Howarth hope this new wave of interest will fuel curiosity about the Anglo-Saxons and the early 7th century, the period when the unknown king was buried at Sutton Hoo.

A window in Lichfield Cathedral tells the story of the arrival of Christianity in Mercia, one of largest kingdoms in Anglo-Saxon England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

You may well ask, what did the Anglo-Saxons do for us?

The idea of England as a nation emerged under the Anglo-Saxons. The Venerable Bede wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731, although their Saxon kingdoms were not united as a recognisably English nation until the 10th century.

Christianity first came to Britain with the Romans. But the Anglo-Saxons gradually became Christians through the influence of Roman missionaries and monks from Ireland and Scotland. Anglo-Saxon church sites include Lichfield Cathedral and Saint Chad’s Church in Lichfield, and Saint Editha’s Church and Polesworth Abbey in Tamworth. Tamworth Castle too stands on an Anglo-Saxon site.

Many of the most common words in use in everyday modern English come directly from Old English, and, as the Guardian pointed out on Saturday, it is possible to construct simple sentences in Anglo-Saxon English that are essentially unchanged today.

The Anglo-Saxons have left a collection of rich and evocative poetry and literature that includes the poetry of Beowulf, which talks about huge gold treasure hoards and dragon hoards, religious verse such as The Dream of the Rood, and historical accounts like the Battle of Maldon, which tells of an Anglo-Saxon defeat in Essex by invading Vikings in 991.

A folded cross was one of the few religious items found in the Staffordshire Hoard

With this renewed interest in Sutton Hoo, I wonder whether Netflix could follow up The Dig with another film set in Lichfield about the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard. After all, this is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork yet found, with 3,500 items of gold and silver and another 3,500 pieces of garnet cloisonné jewellery.

This too dates from the 7th century, with many of artefacts made in the 6th and 7th centuries.

The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered in a field near Hammerwich, south-west of Lichfield, in 2009. It has been described as having ‘radical’ importance in Anglo-Saxon archaeology, and the quality of the workmanship is extremely high.

The hoard was found in a remote area, just south of Watling Street, 4 km west of Wall and the Roman site at Letocetum. The find was made Terry Herbert, a member of Bloxwich Research and Metal Detecting Club, on 5 July 2009, when he was searching an area of recently ploughed farmland owned by Fred Johnson. Excavation continued in 2010, and further finds were made in 2012.

The Staffordshire Hoard eclipses, at least in quantity, the find at Sutton Hoo 70 years earlier. At the time of it discovery it was said the Staffordshire Hoard ‘is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England as radically, if not more so, than the Sutton Hoo discoveries.’

The hoard has featured in the BBC 2 documentary Saxon Hoard: A Golden Discovery (2012) presented by Dan Snow and Secrets of the Saxon Gold (2012), presented by Tony Robinson.

But a Netflix movie about the Staffordshire Hoard might truly eclipse The Dig. My only question is, would Ralph Fiennes play Terry Herbert?

Who would play Terry Herbert in a Netflix film about the Staffordshire Hoard?

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