Just saw the 2021 Netflix film ‘The Dig’ directed by Simon Stone, starring Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan in the lead roles. You can choose to either listen to the podcast version, or continue reading the review.
The film is a historical drama based on a real life story of how landowner Edith Pretty hires an amateur archaeologist Basil Brown to dig what resembles burial mounds on her property. What Brown goes on to discover becomes one of the most important archaeological finds in British History.
If you are not a history buff, this movie might not be something you would want to pick for the weekend, but if find crumbling palaces and ancient corpses intriguing, you will dig ‘the dig’. The cinematography is stunning for most parts because the makers capture the rural beauty Suffolk England, be it during rain or sunshine. While Ralph Fiennes plays the self-taught excavator Basil Brown, the much younger Mulligan plays Edith Pretty.
Moving on to the plot, the story is pretty straightforward – how an unknown archaeologist discovers an ancient ship, at a time when the country is at war, what follows is a credit battle & debates on which museum gets to keep it all. There’s a subtle class warfare at play in the film, we are shown how at first the local museum authorities weren’t keen on lending Basil Brown for a private excavation that they assumed would lead to nothing. But as soon as Brown digs up a significant find to indicate there might be something stunning underneath the mounds, the museum authorities become keen to sideline the poorly educated Brown and take over the excavation.
The film is a little slow and overtly emotional, the broody gloomy music does little to uplift the mood. There is barely any humour or comic relief and the tone is somber. Towards the second-half a few new characters come in and there are new sub-plots. Neither the characters, nor the actual dig gets enough script for the viewer to begin caring, the focus is split, but not well, so you get a little bit of a muddle in the end. A reduction of at least 15 minutes in the runtime would’ve made it a lot more gripping.
To the credit of the makers, the scene when the archaeology makes their first discovery to indicate that the site dates back to not just the Viking, but even further back to the Anglo-Saxon age, their triumph is shot beautifully. The viewer would rejoice at their victory too. Unless you are not a history buff.
The cast is pretty convincing in their parts, Actor Lily James was adorable as the nerdy historian Peggy Preston and the kid who plays Robert, Edith’s son, was a joy to see on screen. The climax was quite satisfying. I would give this film a solid seven.