The Dig – Merci Lack

Mercie Lack at Sutton Hoo, Barbara Wagstaff, 1939

Watching The Dig on Netflix was a good way to spend a bitter Saturday afternoon: a fascinating story told through a well-made, well-acted film, albeit with a heavy seasoning of fiction and romance.  Both fiction and romance (and some drama) take centre screen in the character of Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn) who arrives to photograph the excavation with his Rolleiflex and becomes the love interest for Peggy Preston (a real person (Lily James)).

Mercie Lack – Late Extra, Charring Cross Underground, London, 1930s

The real story of photographing the dig is more interesting, but a bit less Hollywood.  Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff were on holiday in Suffolk in 1939 when the Sutton Hoo ship was being uncovered. Though they arrived after the treasures had been removed they photographed the excavation of the ship itself.  They used Leicas and Agfa colour slide film – the photographs show one of the first archaeological digs in Britain to be captured in colour.

Mercie Lack – The Embankment at Chelsea, London, 1930s

Wikipedia reports on the women as follows.‘Mercie Lack was born in south London on 9 November 1894.  She is widely reported as a teacher in press coverage of her photography at Sutton Hoo. Lack and Barbara Wagstaff both joined the Royal Photographic Society in 1944 and gained their Associate the same year. They are reported as amongst the teaching staff of Putney High School 1935-6, which would fit with Lack’s London photography series of the 1930s.  She became a life member [of the RPS] in 1949. She died in Stevenage in 1985.’ Little seems to be known about Barbara Wagstaff.  I think there is a real story here that might have been more interesting than the fiction – and not just for those who know the difference between a Leica and a Rollei.

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