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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Excavating Life with The Dig

Edith Pretty – ‘We die. We die and we decay. We don’t live on.’

Basil Brown – ‘I’m not sure I agree. From the first human handprint on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous. So, we … don’t really die.’

Sometimes treasure is found in surprising places.

In The Dig, it’s found in conversations more than excavations.

This month’s most-viewed Netflix film tells the true story of the Sutton Hoo excavation in Suffolk in 1939 and the subsequent discovery of an Anglo-Saxon king’s burial ship.

It centres on Basil, the self-taught excavator. Brown delivers life lessons with both a gentle understatement and – my Suffolk friends tell me – a very credible accent. Edith is the young, widowed landowner with a shared interest in archaeology and a curiosity to discover what lies below the huge mounds of earth on her land.

There’s something timely in the discovery of good news against the backdrop of bad. The Dig celebrates one of the most significant ancient finds in UK history whilst acknowledging the ever-present shadow of death in Edith’s strained heart. Planes ominously and obliviously fly over buried treasure, preparing for war. Amongst it all, Basil grasps for a sacred significance in the mundane dig: ‘That speaks, don’t it? The past.’

Sadly we, like Basil, give up when discouraged. Mid-pandemic, our lens has narrowed. We’re focused on yesterday’s losses, today’s repetitive spade-work, and tomorrow’s post-lockdown relief. We lose sight of our labour’s value. We despair over why we ‘dig’, blind to the bigger picture. Yet, as Basil’s wife excavates his motives, ‘You told me your work’s not for the past or even the present but for the future, so that the next generations can know where they came from.’

The film portrays human optimism more than Christian hope. And yet it contains genuine goodness we should praise. As Ecclesiastes 5:18 reminds us, ‘it is appropriate for a person to … find satisfaction in their toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given them.’ And yet, what greater joy there would be if only Basil and Edith would discover whose imprint they bear – that they’re dug from the dirt to work, play, and tell undying stories grounding their identity, worth passing on to subsequent generations.

Truly, there is a time for everything: to live, to die, to dig, and to bury. God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:1–11); with help, it can be unearthed. Why not chat about this film on your frontline? Help your neighbour discover what God has done from beginning to end, though at present it’s hard to see. Time for conversations filled with more treasure than trivia.


Ken Benjamin 
Director of Church Relationships, LICC


  1. Nice thoughts, Mr Benjamin, thank you.
    Also, it’s good to hear Ecclesiastes quoted with something other than uncertainty and suspicion!

    By Mr. M. Brittain  -  12 Feb 2021
  2. Thank you Ken for helping me to understand more clearly why I really liked this sumptuous film. Your ‘turn’ of phrase was sumptuous too “Yet, as Basil’s wife excavates his motives,..”
    What can I say but “more power to your elbow”

    Now the hard part actually doing as you ask..

    By John Howard Stothers  -  12 Feb 2021

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