I know. Last week I had told our readers that I would most probably be watching and reviewing romantic movies for the Valentine’s month. But two things got in the way—Netflix didn’t release as many choices of the genre I’d expected this week, and a friend whom I completely trust on movie selection recommended “The Dig”.
The Dig is a 2021 British drama that unfolds in Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England, in 1939, just around the beginning of the World War II. Directed by Simon Stone, the film is an adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel of the same name based on true events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo.
Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), a landowner in rural Suffolk who also has a keen interest in archeology, hires a local excavator, Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), to dig the burial mounds in her estate. Attracted by a better pay than his previous employer and the prospects of discovering the antiquities hidden beneath the mounds, Brown takes the job and starts what he does best—digging. In the process, he makes some discoveries that lead him to believe that the mounds could date back to the Dark Ages—the Anglo-Saxon era (410-1066).
The local Ipswich museum, as well as a prominent archaeologist, James Reid Moir (Paul Ready), at first dismisses the idea of Brown—a self-taught archaeologist/excavator who has not even completed middle school. But as Brown’s digging unearths some prominent artifacts that back his claim, the site attracts attention of Cambridge archaeologist Charles Phillips (Ken Stott) who declares it of national import and takes over the dig “by order of the Office of Works.”
While the 1hr 52mins long movie is based almost entirely on the digging up of the mound at Sutton Hoo and is also filmed mostly at and around the site, there is much more happening among the film’s characters, which is also dug up as the film progresses. Pretty, a widow with a young son, Robert, has a sad past and a bleak future with a life-threatening ailment that she hides from everyone. Brown, a skilled workman who is completely dedicated to his work, is ignoring his wife, hinting at estrangement in their relation. There is also a side story of the complicated relationship between the archaeologist couple Peggy and Stuart Piggott (Lily James and Ben Chaplin); and Peggy’s romantic involvement with Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn), Pretty’s cousin who she has hired as a helping hand and a photographer.
Set in the backdrop of pre-WWII England, The Dig is a film that not only depicts the story of an exquisite find, but also takes us into the lives of its characters as each is trying to unearth something on their own. Whether it is the realization of her impending death for Pretty or Peggy’s dilemma in choosing between her husband and another man who loves her back, the film is laden with heavy retrospection into people’s lives and relationships.
Directed by Simon Stone, the entire cast emulates the gravity required by the script. The actors in the period drama help recreate the time in England when an impending world war has kept the people agile, agitated and on their toes. A sense of urgency can be felt throughout, even though the screenplay itself is a touch slow.
The urgency in the characters is supported by the cinematography, which will probably go on to win awards. It is 1939 in a sparsely populated Sutton Hoo. There’s not much going on besides the threat of a war, and the gloomy English weather is at its worst with rain and overcast skies. The characters are all somber and dressed in dull colors. In short, there is nothing visually appealing. But cinematographer Mike Eley’s camerawork is so brilliant that the film is an unexpected visual delight.
Despite the mundane film setting, Eley’s cameras follow the characters in a way so as to make the audience feel like they are actually real-life witnesses to the proceedings. There are multiple long shots to show the vast, un-vegetated murkiness of the English county and the actors are followed with handheld shots, the audience feeling themselves keenly following the characters they are so vested in.
Who should watch it?
Despite it being a complete package of good story, acting and filmmaking, we think “The Dig” is not a movie everyone would equally enjoy. It’s PG-13 rated, alright; but the movie’s weightage could also be lost on those only interested in face-paced thrillers. The Dig is a slow, steady film that will impress audiences who are into historical dramas. Even for a general movie fan, the film has enough material to entertain you throughout—if you can keep up with the slow-ish pace.
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: History, drama
Director: Simon Stone
Actors: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn