I watched ‘The Dig’ last week, the Netflix film about the Sutton Hoo archaeological dig in 1939 – and possibly the finest film about an archaeologist not featuring the words “Indiana Jones” in the title. Also the only film about an archaeologist not featuring the words “Indiana Jones” in the title. Films about archaeology is not a big genre.
I enjoyed ‘The Dig’, however, a week later, I read a spoiler that ruined the film for me. In one scene a character offers another a piece of lemon drizzle cake. An innocuous offer in an innocuous scene that has no bearing on the larger plot until I subsequently found out that lemon drizzle cake wasn’t invented until the 1960s. 30 years after the events of the film had taken place. This wasn’t a film abut archaeology, it was a film about time travel!
For a film that had already played fast and loose with the past by inventing a character played by Johnny Flynn who didn’t exist in real life, this was a step too far. If they couldn’t get the cake right could they be trusted to get anything right? Did the Sutton Hoo dig actually happen? Are the famous helmet and sword found there as real as the holy grail? Is Indiana Jones meeting Hitler more historically accurate?!
I mention this because the same day I watched ‘The Dig’ I also watched ‘Black & Whyte: A Norseman film’.
‘Black & Whyte: A Norseman film’ is the story of Prof Greg Whyte’s attempt to race Norseman in 2019. Prof Whyte is a former Olympian, a long distance triathlete and a celebrity coach who helped David Williams swim the English Channel and Greg James race a triathlon around Britain. This film shows his attempt to win the Norseman black t-shirt – and I hated it for similar reasons I questioned the Dig. It didn’t seem real.
Which is a strange thing to say. It was real. He did race Norseman, the film is testament to that. But his narration made it sound like a complete different race. He talks about the cold of the water – yet was swimming in 16 degrees in one of the warmest ever swims. He talked about the unrelenting climbing for 100 miles of the bike course, when the bike course has long descents throughout the whole course, and it showed him running to the finish on roads that I know are banned for support vehicles to stop. That annoyed me. I could see other competitors having to run around his car because it had stopped in their path and blocked the road.
Norseman is a tough, tough race and it doesn’t need to be oversold.
“First, you jump off a ferry and then…
“What, jump off a ferry? Tell me more!”
“Sharks. Sharks with figgin’ laser beams on their head. Hundreds of them.”
“That sound’s awful.”
“Not as bad as the bike ride through landmines, an active volcano and, worst of all, a head wind.”
I suspect my criticism of this film is one that’s not matched by anyone who’s not been to Norseman. He’s telling a story, he has to show how hard it is. And for the average viewer they’re not going to care whether a car was parked on the right place of the road or not. He told a story – but not one I recognised as Norseman. And, for me, it spoiled what was an otherwise well filmed and cinematic video of the Norseman experience. He tarted it up like a lemon drizzle cake. It didn’t need to be there. Adding it, added nothing. But once you know it’s there you can’t believe the rest is real too.
You can find it here: