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The Dig  

Review: written 2021

Down to earth

the dig

This movie might be Netflix released, but it does feel cinematic in its production values, and benefits from some outstanding performances from Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan.

Set in 1939, this tells the story – or at least a movie version of the story – of the excavation of Sutton Hoo, one of the most important archaeological finds in the UK. Carey Mulligan’s melancholy widowed landowner Edith Pretty, struggling with her health, hires excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to explore the mounds on her land which she suspects to be of significance. When his ongoing efforts yield clues that the burial mound could be as old as 6th Century and could be of national significance, experts from the British Museum are brought in, and Basil is sidelined.

the dig

The core of the story is the relationship between Pretty and Brown. It’s a friendship borne from their shared quest, to unearth the secrets of the past and it’s believable, and delicately played. While focussed on this, the movie is engaging, but half-way through the movie events take a different turn, when a new set of characters arrive including Lily James young archaeologist and her husband, as well as a cartoonish turn from Ken Stott as Charles Phillips, the British Museum expert who takes over. At this point a new and far less subtle romantic sub plot unfolds and derails what had been an enjoyable and relaxing watch. The beautiful cinematography and restrained performances from the two main leads make the movie definitely worth watching, but it stumbles and feels drawn out once the British Museum characters become involved. The romantic subplot feels entirely shoehorned in, and unfolds predictably. All of which diverts from the background to all this, the excavation of one of the most extraordinary treasure hordes found on British soil. The search and detective work are interesting, and coupled with the friendship of Pretty and Brown make this engaging but never classic, despite the truly striking pictures painted by the camera. The final disinterment of the treasure then feels oddly muted, and the true import never really lands. What might some images of the restored treasure added, or even a dramatization of the Anglo-Saxon funeral itself?

the dig

In the end, this has neither the satisfying emotional wallop of a believable romance or excitement of a treasure hunt, but is at its best when lazily exploring friendship, photographed in occasionally strikingly ethereal style.

the dig

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