This true story carefully offers an intriguing snapshot into British history to properly preserve it for posterity. Both director Simon Stone and screenwriter Moira Buffini are to be congratulated on bringing this unconventional tale to the screen. Whether you know the Sutton Hoo story or you are unearthing the story for the first time, The Dig ultimately shines a light on a great archeological find. This is set against the start of the Second World War.
The Dig opens with amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) being called to the Suffolk home of the wealthy Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan). She wants to hire him to dig up a cluster of large and mysterious mounds found throughout her property. Local rumours suggest the remains of a Viking hoard or Roman graves scattered across her property. Brown, however, believes it to be an Anglo-Saxon site, which if proven to be true, would be one of the most significant finds in British archaeological history.
Once Brown is proven to be correct he soon finds himself pushed aside as the British Museum becomes involved. The focus shifts between the power struggle of the working-class Brown and the pompous Charles Phillip (Ken Stott), brought in by the Office of Public Works, to oversee the remainder of the excavation.
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As the Second World War becomes imminent tensions and new arrivals grow. Blended within the tension we see the strained relationship between married archaeologists Stuart and Peggy Piggot (Ben Chaplin and Lily James) and Edith’s handsome cousin Rory (Johnny Flynn) begin to transform the film into a new light.
It is death that becomes the overriding theme of the film, the weight of history, war, and untold possibility all give the film a certain depth. While exploring that universal theme it remains subtle and tentative. This unwillingness to heighten the drama appears quite English in its nature, it plays with an unsaid discretion and nuance in a way that has become unfamiliar in Hollywood.
This film wouldn’t have worked quite so well without its talented cast. The presence of both Fiennes and Mulligan, who both play somewhat quiet and pensive characters, manages to convey a richness of emotion in their scenes together. A brilliant Ken Stott manages to capture the self-important air of an Oxbridge archeologist that helps add layers to the film.
Should You Watch it - Yes
While The Dig can boast an intriguing plot, gorgeous cinematography, and an exceptional cast - it still falls a little short. Despite all of its merits, its fault is in the subtlety. The film does have something to say, it just says it with a whisper, leaving the viewer hoping for a little bit more.
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