Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Carey Mulligan, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, Ken Stott, Monica Dolan
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Netflix’s historical period drama, based on real-life events, directed by Simon Stone. As WWII looms, the story follows wealthy widow, Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), who hires amateur archaeologist, Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), to excavate the burial mounds on her estate. When they make a historic discovery, the echoes of Britain’s past resonate in the face of its uncertain future.
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Edith Pretty: Should we take a look at them, then? Basil Brown: Right. Things like this are usually done through museums. Edith Pretty: Yes. But when I approached Ipswich, Mr. Reid Moir said that, with the war coming, they couldn’t embark upon any new ventures. Basil Brown: Well, they have their hands full with a Roman villa.
Edith Pretty: He told me you were a difficult man. Basil Brown: Did he, now? Edith Pretty: Unorthodox, and untrained. Basil Brown: So that’s his reference, is it? Well, I’m not untrained. I’ve been on dig since I was old enough to hold a trowel. My father taught me.
Basil Brown: I’ve always had a curiosity to see these here mounds. Henry the Eighth came here to dig. Edith Pretty: So I’m told. Basil Brown: Well, no record of what he found. Edith Pretty: My husband and I bought this land, with the hope of exploring what was under there. But, well, best laid plans.
Edith Pretty: What are they? Would you hazard a guess? Basil Brown: Burial mounds, I expect. We’re standing in someone’s graveyard, I reckon. Viking. Or maybe older. Edith Pretty: Apparently, local girls used to lie down on them in the hope of falling pregnant. Basil Brown: Well. I’ve heard plenty of legends.
Basil Brown: Is that why you want to dig, Mrs. Pretty? Tales of buried treasure? Edith Pretty: My interest in archaeology began like yours, when I was scarcely old enough to hold a trowel. My childhood home was built on a Cistercian convent. I helped my father excavate the apse. Basil Brown: That speaks, don’t it? The past.
Edith Pretty: [referring to where she wants him to start digging first] But I have a feeling about this one. Basil Brown: Well, that’s your money, Mrs. Pretty. But I’d base your dig on evidence, not feeling.
Edith Pretty: Mr. Brown is an archaeologist. Basil Brown: Well, I’m an excavator. Robert Pretty: You’ve come to dig up the mounds? Basil Brown: Well, I’m afraid not. Not today.
Edith Pretty: You’ll start with this one? Basil Brown: Yeah. I reckon we can forget that larger mound, Mrs. Pretty. This one here, that’s where we’ll find something.
George Spooner: If you ask me, the man should leave Mrs. Pretty’s mounds well alone.
Guy Maynard: War is looming, and all hands are on deck to excavate before hostilities begin. James Reid Moir: And so, we must ask you to return Mr. Brown. Edith Pretty: I’d like him to finish what he’s started. James Reid Moir: We may have found the largest Roman villa north of Felixstowe. It’s of far greater import, if you’ll forgive me, than this minor venture. Edith Pretty: Then the choice is Mr. Brown’s.
James Reid Moir: We need you back at the villa. That’s what I’m here to say. And Mrs. Pretty has released you. Edith Pretty: I have said it is your choice. Basil Brown: Well, then I’ll stay. Thank you kindly, ma’am.
Robert Pretty: Mr. Brown’s been telling us all sorts of things. For instance, what’s the most important part of an archaeologist’s body? Edith Pretty: I don’t know. Robert Pretty: His nose. If there’s something there, he’ll know it by the smell.
Edith Pretty: I was reading Howard Carter’s account of his excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Basil Brown: Oh? Edith Pretty: He stood at the threshold of the burial chamber, the first man to do so for three thousand years, and he saw finger marks still on the paint. Basil Brown: He say, “Time lost its meaning.” Edith Pretty: It occurs to me that you might unearth human remains. Basil Brown: Yeah, that’s possible.
Edith Pretty: We’re digging down to meet the dead. Disinterring them, in fact. Basil Brown: Well, there’s always coroner’s inquests when remains are found. The dead still get that courtesy, no matter how many centuries they’ve lain. We can’t dig down into the earth without considering that.
Basil Brown: [after dirt collapses on Brown] Something did come into my head. Edith Pretty: What was it? Basil Brown: My grandfather. I have his name. Basil Brown. Farming man. Taught me everything I know about Suffolk soil. Edith Pretty: And you saw him? Basil Brown: Oh, I saw nothing at all. I was just, I just thought of him. Edith Pretty: Well, perhaps he saw you.
Basil Brown: Now this land’s been plowed for a thousand year. Now supposing whoever plowed here, gradually knocked a bit off. So by the time robbers come along, they’d have sunk the flute into what they thought was the center. Edith Pretty: But it might not have been. Basil Brown: That’s right. East to west, that’s my feeling. You say the word, and I’ll dig.
Robert Pretty: Did the people who made these burial mounds have mustaches? Basil Brown: And beards. They were a very beardy lot. Not like them there Romans. Now, they liked the close shave.
Robert Pretty: The Vikings and the space pilots are the same, really, aren’t they? They explore new lands and have battles in ships. Basil Brown: Yeah, when you put it like that, I suppose they might be the same.
Robert Pretty: Would you like to fly, Mr. Brown? Basil Brown: Oh, but I do. All over the cosmos, every time I look through my telescope.
Basil Brown: Oh, well, that’s a ship that’s been buried in the mound. Robert Pretty: Why would anyone want to bury a ship? Basil Brown: Well, I expect because that’s a grave. Robert Pretty: Whose grave? Basil Brown: Well, I’d expect this is a grave of a great man. A warrior. Or a king.
Edith Pretty: Congratulations, Mr. Brown. Basil Brown: Well, you thought there was something, didn’t you? Edith Pretty: I had my feeling. Basil Brown: That you did, Mrs. Pretty. That you did.
Edith Pretty: Mr. Reid Moir has kindly offered to take charge of the dig. I turned his generous offer down. Basil Brown: You didn’t. Edith Pretty: I did. Basil Brown: What did he say? Edith Pretty: He said I couldn’t keep it to myself, which is true. Basil Brown: I bet he blew his gasket.
Edith Pretty: I wanted to thank you for your patience with Robert. He can hardly wait to see you in the mornings. Basil Brown: Well, keeps me on me toes, having him around. Edith Pretty: Do you have children? Basil Brown: No. We, uh… No.
Edith Pretty: The servants tell me you’ve studied everything, from Latin to geology. Basil Brown: Well, a little education is a dangerous thing. Edith Pretty: Apparently, you’ve written a book. Basil Brown: I have. A guide to astronomical maps and charts, to make them accessible to ordinary men. I left school when I was twelve. Always had a hunger to study. Edith Pretty: I got a place at London University. My father wouldn’t hear of it.
May Brown: You got something to show me? I think you have. I can see it in your eyes. Basil Brown: I’m not saying anything.
Basil Brown: A man could dig the earth his whole life through and not find anything like I’ve discovered here.
May Brown: [to Brown] Everyone’s going to want a piece of this here ship, and this is your find.
May Brown: [to Brown] Your heart’s lost to this Viking maiden, I can tell. Ain’t it?
May Brown: I do miss you. I’ve been reading your books for company. Basil Brown: You haven’t. May Brown: I have. Basil Brown: Hell, it’s not much company, is it? May Brown: No, they’re hard work, I tell you. Basil Brown: They are.
Basil Brown: Now, I’ve been reading up about the Oseberg Ship. That’s a Viking ship they found in Norway. There was a burial chamber in the center, roofed. It’s a bit like we imagine Noah’s Ark. Of course, any roof here would have caved in long ago. See, this line here. The ground is higher, but this soil is darker. Rory Lomax: So you think there’s something beneath? Basil Brown: Well, we may know by the end of today.
Charles Phillips: Ye gods! This is incredible! James Reid Moir: We at the Ipswich Museum pride ourselves on our work, and I think you’ll agree that it’s rock solid.
Basil Brown: You need to stop there. Charles Phillips: I beg your pardon? Basil Brown: This is a very delicate site, and it ain’t safe. Not for a man of your size.
Charles Phillips: Is this your work? Basil Brown: Yes. I’m Basil Brown, excavator. Charles Phillips: Well, Basil Brown, excavator. I am Charles Phillips, archaeologist. And I’m here to tell you that, as this is a find of national interest, the British Museum will be taking charge. Your work, looks, thankfully, decent, but your excavating service is no longer required.
Charles Phillips: You men, finish up, and don’t move another pebble! Basil Brown: Excuse me, Mr. Phillips. I’m not employed by you. I’m employed by Mrs. Pretty. And I’ll keep on working until she tells me different. Charles Phillips: An ad hoc team from a provincial museum cannot be left in charge. Mrs. Pretty must see that.
Basil Brown: I’m sorry for disturbing you, but I believe we may have found a burial chamber in the ship. Edith Pretty: Does Mr. Phillips know? Basil Brown: I don’t work for Mr. Phillips. What are your wishes? Edith Pretty: He just informed me that, by order of the Ministry of Works, the site must be placed under his control. Basil Brown: Well, that’s that, then.
Basil Brown: [to Edith, referring to Phillips] He’s got no right to dictate to you. This ship’s only appearing because of you. Don’t forget why you wanted it begun. Now, you said that was a feeling. Your feeling is right.
May Brown: Did you tell Mrs. Pretty you were leaving? Basil Brown: I thought I’d let her work it out herself. May Brown: And that’s the thanks she gets for giving you the opportunity in the first place?
Basil Brown: Mark my words, May, I won’t receive any credit. I won’t even be a footnote. May Brown: Is that why you took the job? For credit? Basil Brown: Well, how can I stay on to be a laborer? May Brown: Is that why you’ve been digging your whole life for barely enough to cover our rent? Basil Brown: No, May. I do it because I’m good at it. Because that’s what my father taught me, and what his father taught him. Because you can show me a handful of soil from anywhere in Suffolk, and I can pretty much tell you whose land it’s from. May Brown: There you go.
Basil Brown: I found that ship. I may not be a fellow at Cambridge, but I worked out what was down there. And Jacobs and Spooner too, and nobody will remember that. May Brown: You don’t know that. And if you’re not around to see it to the end, there’s even less chance.
May Brown: You always told me your work isn’t about the past or even the present. It’s for the future. So that the next generations can know where they came from. The line that joins them to their forebears. Isn’t that what you always say? Basil Brown: Yeah, something like that. May Brown: Why else would the lot of you be playing in the dirt while the rest of the country prepares for war? Because that means something, don’t it? Something that’ll last longer than whatever damn war we’re heading into.
Basil Brown: [after Robert cycles all the way to Brown’s home] Robert came to remind me of a promise that I made. I said I’d show him the stars through my telescope. Didn’t I? Edith Pretty: Then you’re returning? Basil Brown: I am. Yes.
Charles Phillips: This ship is very delicate. One could say, it scarcely exists at all. Too much weight, it disintegrates. You’re probably less than nine stone. So I’ll supervise from here, while you light things get on with the digging. Peggy Piggott: Am I to understand you only asked for me because of my size? Charles Phillips: Lucky guess, actually. Yeah, thank God Piggott didn’t marry a piglet.
Robert Pretty: Do space pilots navigate using the stars? Basil Brown: Oh, most certainly, they do.
Charles Phillips: Damn this weather. Losing a whole day. So little time before world events confound us. It’s a race, an absolute race.
Peggy Piggott: [referring to Brown] Stuart couldn’t fault his work. Could he not be unearthing the stern? Charles Phillips: Mr. Brown isn’t qualified. Edith Pretty: Well, that’s just snobbery, isn’t it, Mr. Phillips?
Basil Brown: I found it down between the strikes. I believe that’s a Merovingian tremissis. Late sixth century. Charles Phillips: It can’t be. Viking East Anglia didn’t have a coin based economy till the ninth century. Basil Brown: Well, I think that the ship is older. Edith Pretty: Mr. Brown has always said so. Charles Phillips: This is Anglo-Saxon.
Charles Phillips: It’s Dark Age, by Jupiter! Sixth century! This changes everything. These people were not just marauding barterers. They had culture! They had art! They had money! William Grimes: Well, Vikings are out the window.
[as Phillips want to take the Anglo-Saxon artifacts to the British Museum] Edith Pretty: This treasure came from someone’s grave. There’ll be an inquest, as you know, and its fate will be decided there. Until then, Mr. Brown, as the finder of this magnificent ship, would you please take the treasure up to the house? Basil Brown: Yes, Mrs. Pretty.
Edith Pretty: Am I doing the right thing? It’s someone’s grave. Basil Brown: No, that’s life what’s revealed. And that’s why we dig.
Edith Pretty: Rory has been accepted into the RAF. Peggy Piggott: Should I congratulate you? Rory Lomax: I don’t know. Cousin Edith didn’t.
Edith Pretty: [referring to the partial eclipse of the moon] Isn’t that a bad omen? Basil Brown: Well, they used to think so. Edith Pretty: It does make you feel the gods are angry. The people who buried that ship, what did they believe? Basil Brown: Well, they were sailing somewhere, weren’t they? Down to the underworld, or up to the stars. Edith Pretty: Wherever we go when we die.
Edith Pretty: [after an RAF pilot crashes and dies nearby] They train these boys on rickety planes from the Great War. My husband always said, “If you want your son to die, then let him join the Air Force.” Peggy Piggott: They say this war will be fought in the air.
Peggy Piggott: So what drew you to photography? Rory Lomax: Oh, I suppose it’s just a way of trying to fix things as they go past. To keep what’s vital from being lost.
Peggy Piggott: My father once gave me an old coin. And he said it was from the time of Caesar Augustus. And I knew the story from the Bible where Jesus showed the disciples a coin. Rory Lomax: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Peggy Piggott: Yes. And I, well, I became convinced that the coin I had was the one that Jesus had actually shown the disciples. I used to marvel that I could hold it. Rory Lomax: What happened to your coin? Peggy Piggott: I wear it. I thought it might bring me luck. Rory Lomax: And has it?
Rory Lomax: If a thousand years were to pass in an instant, what would be left of us? Peggy Piggott: [referring to her coin] This. And parts of your watch. Torch. Fragments of the mug. Rory Lomax: But every last scrap of you and I would disappear.
Robert Pretty: [referring to Edith] I know she’s sick. I know it! There’s nothing I can do! But why is there nothing I can do? I should be able to make her better. Basil Brown: You do. You do make her better. Robert Pretty: No, she’s worse. She is, I can see it!
Robert Pretty: When my father died, everyone said I had to look after my mother. And I failed. I failed. Basil Brown: Robert, we all fail. Every day. There are some things we just can’t succeed at. No matter how hard we try. I know it’s not what you want to hear. Robert Pretty: I’m stronger than she thinks I am. Basil Brown: I know. Perhaps you’ll show her.
Edith Pretty: Rory, I’m telling you in no uncertain terms that you cannot possibly die. I’m saying this most seriously. Don’t you dare put yourself in danger. Rory Lomax: Well, I’m not sure I shall have much choice. Edith Pretty: Robert is going to need you. Do you understand?
Robert Pretty: I want to take my mother sailing. Basil Brown: Well, I don’t think that ship is sailing anywhere. You know, it’s just compacted sand. There’s nothing holding it, except time. Robert Pretty: That won’t matter. Not where we’re going. Basil Brown: Now, where’s that, then? Robert Pretty: Will you come? Basil Brown: Well, if I’m invited, I’ll come.
Charles Phillips: These people were not savage warriors. These were sophisticated people with incredible artistry. The Dark Ages are no longer dark.
Edith Pretty: The artifacts discovered here have caused a national sensation. You must all know by now that they were recovered from a chamber in the middle of a ship. A burial ship, engineered from oak. In my opinion, the greatest and most beautiful treasure of all. Ninety feet long, lying east to west. Found and excavated by Mr. Basil Brown.
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.
Edith Pretty: [to Peggy] I’m sure work like yours is very sustaining. But it’s not enough. Life is very fleeting. I’ve learnt that. It has moments you should seize.
Peggy Piggott: We both have our own paths to follow, don’t we? And I’ve seen you when you’re happy. You’re rather beautiful. Stuart Piggott: I’m happy with you. [Peggy shakes her head] Stuart Piggott: I could learn to be. Peggy Piggott: I think that would be an awful shame.
Edith Pretty: I’m giving the treasure to the British Museum. As a gift. It should be where the greatest number of people can freely see it. I haven’t told them yet. I wanted to tell you. Basil Brown: Well, that’s a hell of a big gift. I don’t know anyone’s ever made a gift as big as that. Edith Pretty: Apparently, they haven’t. I also told Mr. Phillips that I expect your work to receive proper recognition. Basil Brown: Thank you.
Robert Pretty: We’re coming towards the edge of the atmosphere. Can you see it, Mother? We’re sailing into the cosmos. Edith Pretty: Yes, I can. Where are we heading? Robert Pretty: Orion’s Belt, to take the Queen home. Edith Pretty: Which Queen? Robert Pretty: This boat’s hers. Her people gave her treasure for her home voyage. And she was sad when the ship came. Because she knew she’d be leaving everyone behind. And she was worried that they wouldn’t get on very well without her. But she knew she had to follow the King into the sky. And so, she set off, through the Earth and up into the cosmos.
Robert Pretty: Space is a funny thing. Time operates quite differently up there, and five hundred years can pass in a flash. And the Queen looked back down to Earth. She could see that her son had grown up, and that he was now a space pilot. And she knew that when he made his first journey up to the stars, she would be there to meet him.
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