Lily James’ character in ‘The Dig’ blasted for making an archaeologist into a ‘sidekick’

The Dig

I haven’t seen Netflix’s The Dig yet, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s the true story of the massive historical find of an Anglo-Saxon ship buried at Sutton Hoo in England, which was dug out on the eve of World War II. It stars Carey Mulligan as the owner of the land, and she brings in archaeologists including Peggy Piggott and Basil Brown, played by Lily James and Ralph Fiennes. Peggy Piggott was a real archaeologist and a female pioneer in the field of archaeology. But The Dig apparently makes her seem like a bumbling sidekick and people are mad!

Netflix’s The Dig is getting slammed for its portrayal of archaeologist Peggy Piggott, calling the movie sexist. Archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes blasted the film, telling The Times that the movie belittled the famous archaeologist by making her into “something of a sidekick to her older husband, Stuart.” The movie follows the story of one of Britain’s greatest finds: the unearthing of the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo.

Lily James plays the 27-year-old excavator alongside Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan. As one scene shows, James as Piggott tells her boss she “hasn’t done much fieldwork” and then proceeds to clumsily crash her foot through the top of an Anglo-Saxon ship’s burial chamber. “On the whole she is presented as deferential, even bumbling, putting her foot through a hollow feature,” Wragg Sykes describes. Though, she claims that’s not who the famous woman was in real life. In fact, she says Piggott was highly experienced. The film is based on the historical fiction novel about the dig written by Piggott’s uncle John Preston. He claims that allegations that the young wife was “bumbling” are untrue. “She was 27 when she did the dig in real life so to suggest that she was a grizzled professional is pushing it a bit,” he says.

[From Pop Culture]

The Peggy character sounds like a messy and lazy characterization of someone who was probably quite badass for the time. Looking at the photos, the film really leaned into the dumbest tropes too – they hired a beautiful blonde actress, gave her a brunette wig and oversized glasses and then they made her clumsy and vapid. Voila! She’s a bumbling nerd who doesn’t know she’s hot and she’s desperate to be “taught,” all of which will placate the big strong men. Ugh.


The Dig

Photos courtesy of Larry Horricks/Netflix © 2021.

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37 Responses to “Lily James’ character in ‘The Dig’ blasted for making an archaeologist into a ‘sidekick’”

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  1. jennyrev says:

    Since when is Lily James a blonde?

    • Elvie says:

      100% with you on this. Lily goes natural brunette more often than not these days, including last summer when she had the fling with Dominic West.

    • milliemollie says:

      Yes, this movie look is how she actually looks just with added glasses.

  2. Scal says:

    Sutton Hoo is one of my favorite archeological stories. They also dragged Cary mulligans character to be a 35 year old woman instead of a woman in her 50s. Edith Pretty was a badass. This was a woman that had her son at 47 in the 1930s! She was not someone who was sadly wasting away after her husband passed.

    And yes- Margot Guido was a established archeologist with a PhD when she dug at Sutton Hoo-but they had to dumb her down and give her a love interest.

    The movie is beautifully shot but ugh-all of that typical Hollywood treatment of women bugged me.

    • BeanieBean says:

      Twas ever thus. Can’t have a strong, intelligent female, too intimidating. And she has to be pretty, but not too pretty, so stick some glasses on her. Gah!!

    • schlussel says:

      I’m so glad you mentioned thirty-something Cary Mulligan playing Edith Pretty, who was in her late fifties during the dig! Cary was great in the film, but it was a bit grim to see that a very attractive woman looking a bit drawn and tired was deemed adequate as a representation of a 50-something year old woman.

      • sally says:

        I was excited to see this since the artefacts have always interested me, however, I watched an interview with the director the other night and there might be a reason why Carey looked drawn and tired: he seemed like a massive a-hole. Apparently he’s one of those “artistes” who think it necessary to put their actors in real danger and turmoil to get “real” reactions. The scene where Brown gets buried? They really dropped a ton of earth on Fiennes and Mulligan’s panic was real. Like have we really learned nothing from #metoo? Who thinks this is ok? So yeah, much less excited about the movie ever since.

    • Eugh says:

      So Margot is the author’s aunt or great aunt something like that so I find it very odd they also gave her this odd fictional entanglement.

      I don’t have an issue with Cary as they did attempt to age her up, she replaced Nicole Kidman and I think she did a much better job than Nicole would have done

    • Jen says:

      I just wanted to say that Sutton Hoo is 15 minutes from where I live! It’s absolutely gorgeous.

      • Ponytail says:

        I have never felt so ripped off by an attraction! They were charging extra to get closer to the mound, and none of the treasure is actually at Sutton Hoo, so everything you see is just a recreation. I visited the house, which was very period-appropriate but we left after 45 minutes. I was so annoyed, I didn’t even visit the gift shop and I ALWAYS like to buy a souvenir usually.

    • Nic919 says:

      I watched this and wanted to like it but I was mostly bored and they gave Carey Mulligan nothing to do in this film. Lily James was a pretty useless character but then again I have never seen her appeal in anything. She’s not a great actress. I just didn’t realize that the film diminished the real life women who sounded way more interesting.

  3. Cocoa says:

    This is why more women needs to jobs men are too lazy to do because of ego and arrogance. Instead of doing research and paying attention to detail, they use sexist and migsognist tropes. I digress. #morewomenasdiresctora

  4. MrsBanjo says:

    [“She was 27 when she did the dig in real life so to suggest that she was a grizzled professional is pushing it a bit,” he says.]

    She directed a dig at age 25, so clearly she was more professional than he’d like to make her out to be. This is gross.

    • Becks1 says:

      But he also says that to suggest she was “bumbling” was untrue. I’m also confused as to how old the uncle is – if she was 27 on the even of World War II, and we assume he was even 10 years older than her, that would make him well over 100 now. am I missing something?

  5. Lexy says:


  6. The lady says:

    I see Velma from Scooby Doo in that picture.

  7. SarahCS says:

    Well this is disappointing. We haven’t watched it yet but I’ve been really excited about it as I grew up very close to the site and a few years back saw the helmet they dug out in the British Museum and it’s amazing. Although I have seen that the helmet itself isn’t featured in the film which is a shame as when I watched the trailer with my boyfriend I was hyping it as the big surprise/reveal that would happen in the film without saying what it was!

    • BeanieBean says:

      It’s been awhile, but I think I was able to see the entirety of the Hutton Soo treasure in the British Museum. Extraordinary!!

    • Anne Call says:

      It was odd they never showed the helmet. I had to google it. But overall film is good provided some nice covid comfort entertainment.

  8. Legally Black says:


  9. Jellybean says:

    I didn’t think it was a good film, but it did pass the time. I don’t know anything about the real people. I just thought her character’s arc was to be a young woman realising that she need to make a break from the norms of society and live her own life; Carey Mulligan’s character was never able to realise her potential, but James’ will. Yes, she did put her foot through a piece of wood, but it isn’t as though other characters made no mistakes. I thought her last scene with her husband was done very well and my impression was that she would go on to lead a great life with or without the romantic attachment.

    • kimmy says:

      That’s exactly how I felt after watching this over the weekend. I didn’t find her “bumbling” at all…more like “new on the scene and stuck in her husband’s shadow” but then she realized her potential at the end.

      I knew nothing of these people or this story going in. I just like Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes.

  10. Lightpurple says:

    After I watched the film, which I did enjoy, I researched all the people. Margaret Guido was a fascinating woman in her own right both for her professional accomplishments and her personal life.

  11. Bex says:

    If she’d written that she was “bumbling” because she didn’t seem to realize a pretty massive thing about her husband, then yes.

    But from what I remember, she seemed very knowledgeable in her field, despite it being ibeing dominated by middle class men who talked down to her (as well as the character played by Ralph Fiennes). She challenged these men when they tried to dismiss her expertise.

    Also, pointing out how she accidentally stepped in the wrong place (at a dig site with no marked walking path), as if the movie didn’t show an experienced excavator burying himself under tons of dirt, seems disingenuous to me.

    What did not make sense was Carey Mulligan being miscast in another role (see Drive w/Ryan Gosling).

  12. Lauren says:

    I watched it during the weekend and the premise of the story was interesting though the female characters were washed up. Mrs Pretty was the rich landowner who had some thoughts that needed to be squashed by every male character around her and Peggy Piggot was a inexperienced archeologists that just wanted her husband’s attention. Luckily they actually spoke a bit about the Sutton Hoo site which I knew nothing about.

  13. Happy Daze says:

    I watch all Period piece movies & love historical fiction. However, this “take” felt pre #metoo w the infantilized female archeologist & the land owner who seemed willow in the wind.

  14. coolspray says:

    Gross. Was going to watch this but giving it a miss now.

  15. Jess says:

    The criticisms are far from my experience with the film. I am in the midst of completing my PhD so I am sensitive to how even now it’s still complicated for women in academia and how we are received in and outside of it. I felt the film was not about the Sutton Hoo find, but about extraordinary possibilities of leaning into what were impossible human scenarios. And coming out on the other side unexpectedly victorious, their small human triumphs were on par with extraordinary archaeological finds.

    The film is great. I know these are dark days and so many things are rotten, but I think this film should be watched with an open mind and heart and not the blunt side of a hammer as the means of interpretation.

  16. Jen says:

    I live very close to Sutton Hoo and have been waiting forever to watch the movie! The site itself has replicas of all the treasure that was found. It’s really just incredible. I enjoyed the movie, although I did feel Cary Mulligan was to young to play Edith. It’s a shame they didn’t do more with Lily James’s character. There was so much potential!

  17. TattsNotForMe says:

    Used to quite like her; now I just can’t. Not just the Dominic West thing but also I believe the Armie rumours (Elizabeth Chambers liked some (JustJared I think it was) IG post about their alleged onset fling. All three are sleazy in my eyes and unwatchable at this stage. Armie Hammer is going to be a bigger disaster than Johnny Depp has been IMO.

  18. diamond rottweiler says:

    Strangely, the thing I took the most exception to in the writing was *SPOILER ALERT LOOK AWAY*——

    how ham-fistedly they wrapped up the absolutely devastating story of Edith going into the horror of WWII knowing her young son was about to lose his mother, too. It was heartbreaking, then they had a little sleepover in the viking ship, boy’s like “oh I’ll be fine” and then it’s all good! Given the build up throughout the film, man, was that an afterthought wrap up. Uff.

  19. Miss Jupitero says:

    Former Medieval Studies major here! I did my senior thesis on Sutton Hoo and how the animal-morphic patterns in much of the pieces they unearthed were echoed in the ulluminations found in insular manuscripts of the period, including the Book of Kells and the Lindesfarne Gospels. The Sutton Hoo discovery was epic, extraordinary, and charged how we understood Anglo Saxon history and culture. I wish they had gone into more detail for the sake of viewers who are new to all of this– that Merovingian coin was just the tip of the iceberg.

    And Peggy Pigott was one of the most accomplished archeologists of her generation– even at the time of this dig! At age 25, she directed that dig! Her work made this happen! This film really gave her short shrift. It was embarrassing to watch.

    Nevertheless, I loved it– just see the beauty of the the region made me all teary eyed.

  20. The Recluse says:

    I was reading the reactions of various archaeology experts, historians and the like on Twitter. They were not happy with how the two women were portrayed in this film or that they replaced 1 (2?) female photographers with one blubby guy. I still haven’t decided whether to watch it or not. If it’s based on a novel and not history, then we can start by laying some blame on the author, but the producers should have done some actual research before they even did the script.
    The displeasure here kind of reminds me of the annoyance I developed with the film The Girl With the Pearl Earring. The wife in that film was diminished in character compared to what Vermeer’s widow actually was. And that some servant girl would get Vermeer more than his wife, who in real life totally understood her husband’s talent and promoted it was typical male wish fulfillment. Also, the ‘pearl’ earring was likely glass and the ‘girl’ was likely his daughter, based on recent research. Having the ‘girl in the pearl earring’ be Vermeer’s daughter would have been a much more interesting tale: her view of her father’s talent and his career and his tragic sudden death.

    • Nic919 says:

      I’m sure the real life women were more interesting but they really botched this whole thing. I never got a sense of much about the dig itself and learned more from the Wikipedia entry once the film was done.

      The lily James character seemed like a ditz more often than not and since I never thought she was that great of an actor, her skills didn’t do much with what was in the screenplay. Carey mulligan wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t used very much.

  21. Angh says:

    Oh and on top of that of course there’s also a gratuitous scene with her in the bathtub. Eye roll.

  22. mary says:

    well, she met her match chris Evans womanizer/hard core drinker he came 10.000 miles to London for one night with lily James in a posh hotel he go anywhere in the world for a one-night stand. chris evans is not nice guy he always has a smug grin on his face when he goes around acting innocent he a full hardcore womanizer