Digging to find – political animal

Prospecting (UK, 2021) by Simon Stone tells the story of an archaeological discovery in Great Britain. The script was written by Moira Bovigny, based on the John Preston novel.

In it, Edith Pretty (1883-1942) (Carey Mulligan), a widow of a military man, and owner of a large estate, makes sure that there are remains of past cultures in the burial mounds on her lands.

To do this, she called the director of the nearby Ipswich Museum to help her with her project. In those days they focused on investigating Roman antiquities.

They sent Basil Brown (1888-1977) (Ralph Fiennes) a self-taught archaeologist, but with great job qualities. He is an innate student.

In 1939 excavations began at Sutton Hoo. Brown decides to start with two burials in which he finds nothing, then focus on the one that Pretti suggested.

The remains of a tomb ship began to appear. Brown thinks they are Viking remnants, but soon discovers they are older.

He concludes that the burial dates back to what is known in Britain as the Dark Ages (400 to 1000) and that it occurred between 600 and 650. By a boat drawn from the Deben River.

Look for a series of items of great historical value such as warrior clothing (helmet, sword, shield, ax, spear …) as well as oars, harps, clothes, and items from faraway lands.

Given the importance of the find, archaeologists have intervened at the British Museum, who put aside Brown, who has the support of the property owner.

The museum initiates a lawsuit over the ownership of the finder and the things that were found in it. Pretty won the case, who years later donated the items to the museum, which was shown for the first time nine years after her death, and on that occasion, no credit goes to the work of Brown, who discovered the ship’s tomb.

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No body was found on the discovery. Several hypotheses have emerged. In 1979 it was discovered that there was one when a chemical analysis of the soil revealed the presence of phosphates, indicating the overall decomposition of the body.

Investigations continue on Sutton Hoo. Evidence of a second ship (Mound 2) and other burials have been found including the Tomb of a Noble Lady (Mound 14) and a young warrior’s ship with his horse (Mound 17).

There are real characters in the movie, but there are fictional ones as well. Filmed at the location where the scene was reconstructed. Today Sutton Hoo is at an archaeological site.

The film provides an account of the work of archaeologists. From his methods as well as from his position. Who called it “prospecting”.

Fiennes does an unusual job in his role as Brown. The tone of the narration as well as the pictures and colors are sad (can be seen on Netflix).


Original address: drilling

Production: UK, 2021

Direction: Simon Stone

Screenplay: Moira Bovigny, adapted from the John Preston novel.

Photography: Mike Elle

Music: Stephan Gregory

Starring: Carrie Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, Ken Stott, Monica Dolan, Archer Ali, Joe Hearst, Paul O’Kelly, Eileen Davis, James Dryden, Chloe Stannage, Kate Margot, Kevin Nolan …

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