Set on the eve of World War II in rural Suffolk. The Dig is inspired by the real life archaeological exploration of Sutton Hoo resulting in a significant discovery of Anglo-Saxon treasure.
Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan take the lead as excavator Basil Brown and wealthy landowner Edith Pretty respectively, and they’re ably supported by Ken Stott, Johnny Flynn and Lily James, among others.
The Dig is a gentle film with both flashes of brilliance and questionable moments.
Fiennes plays salt-of-the-earth Brown very well, and seems very at home in his waistcoat and fedora get up. He’s a complex man interested in astronomy as well as ancient languages.
Mulligan delivers a solid performance as the widowed, stoic and resolute Mrs Pretty very well. She has a natural chemistry with on-screen Robert that is lovely to watch.
It is a multi-layered film that, as with archaeology itself, delivers so much more than meets the eye. As well as the discovery of the Anglo-Saxon treasure other narrative threads include various nods to World War II, but not so many that the impending war dominates the film, terminal illness and forbidden romance.
This is, sadly, where the questionable moments start to show themselves.
I found the first third — when Brown meets Mrs Pretty and starts the excavation — the most enjoyable. It is also includes a very moving scene that provoked a visceral reaction within me.
It is during the second third, when more characters are introduced, that my enjoyment started to wane, culminating into a rather disappointing final third.
The excavation, which Mrs Pretty says has become quite the “national sensation”, starts to play second fiddle to the love triangle that Lily James’s character, Peggy Piggott, finds herself in.
My frustrations came to a head when another very touching moment that brought a tear to my eye suddenly cuts to a passionate sexual display. I found it completely jarring and unnecessary.
My other gripe is with some of the camera work. Some angles used were to great effect, especially when showing the scale of the dig, but at other times they felt quite pretentious and didn’t add much — if anything — to the scene.
I also found it quite irritating when on multiple scenes the dialogue was used as a voiceover while the characters were a few seconds ahead and in silence.
The Dig is an enjoyable film that, much like the dig itself, starts off measured and gentle. However, it loses its way and if you’re watching it for the archaeology alone you will be disappointed.
The Dig (2021)
Director: Simon Stone
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes
“An archaeologist embarks on the historically important excavation of Sutton Hoo in 1938.” – IMDb.