Mulligan stars in the movie, which was released last week (29 January), as the Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty, who in 1939 hired an archaeologist to excavate the grounds of her estate. Ralph Fiennes stars as the archaeologist, Basil Brown, and Lily James, Johnny Flynn and Ben Chaplin also appear.
While the film has received praise from critics, a number of viewers have questioned why Mulligan was cast as Pretty, who died at the age of 59. The film covers the time period of 1939 until her death in 1942.
“Is it true the real life woman in The Dig, Edith Pretty, was 56 years old?” tweeted the Poldark actor Beatie Edney. “They just won’t allow women over 40 on the screen will they? #ageism #middleagedwomen.”
Actor Catherine Russell tweeted: “I don’t blame Ms Mulligan, we all need the work, but please, if the part requires a woman of a certain age - FFS - give it to us!!!”
“Not that the actress didn’t do a great job but there are lots of great actresses of the right age group,” wrote a viewer. “I would far rather watch a realistic portrayal, wrinkles and all!”
The Independent has reached out to Netflix for comment.
Historians have already pointed out a number of inaccuracies in the film, including the decision to age up the character played by Chaplin. In reality, the archaeologist Stuart Piggott was 29 at the time the film is set, while Chaplin is 51.
That change means that the film introduces a significant age gap between Piggott and his wife Peggy (played by James), who was truthfully only two years younger than her husband. Chaplin is 20 years older than James.
Mulligan stepped into the Pretty role after Nicole Kidman dropped out of the project. Kidman would have been a more age-appropriate choice, as she is 53.
Speaking to BBC News, Mulligan defended the age gap between herself and the real Pretty.
“I suppose there is an age disparity between me and the real-life character, but then the sense of her I think was the most important thing,” she said. “I was aged-up slightly with make-up to try and split the difference a little bit. But it was more important to honour Edith’s character and the humble, generous, extraordinary woman she was.”
Writing for The Independent, film critic Clarisse Loughrey described The Dig as “contemplative” and “dreamy”.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies