In the modern day, there’s often an increasing pressure on filmmakers, and other artists, to cater toward loud obnoxious spectacle at the expense of drama and character. This is one of the reasons that The Dig feels like a breath of fresh air, in a world of stories that feel the need to shock or stun their audience into submission to keep their attention.
Based on the novel by John Preston, The Dig follows a dramatised account of the excavation of the Sutton Hoo barrow mounds in 1939. Focusing largely on the relationship between gruff but kindly self-taught excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), and landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan). The film portrays the uncovering of the site, and the discovery of its incredible contents, while contrasting this against the oncoming threat of World War 2, and the social conventions and class rivalries at play. In the midst of all this uncovering of the past, the characters each peer inward to discover what truly matters to each of them, while this once in a lifetime scenario plays out around them.
What really works about the film is that from the first moments of Fiennes biking across the broad flatlands of the Suffolk countryside, it’s clear this film is in no hurry to rush its story. In many ways, the film is uncovering each character in the same manner as they themselves are exploring the dig site. Whether it’s Brown’s stubborn but resilient realisations of how important the discovery is to him, Mrs. Pretty’s stoic sadness and her acceptance of her failing health, or the gradual drifting apart of Peggy (Lily James) and Stuart Piggot‘s (Ben Chaplin) marriage; each fragment of character development is like a piece of treasure being unearthed and building towards a greater sum.
Stone’s deft touch weaves a gentle and quiet tale of subtle brilliance. One from which the viewer is drawn in, and made to feel as much a part of the mud, rain, joy and sadness as any of the team. What’s more, Mike Eley‘s cinematography gives the film a broad and rich feeling that echoes the story and beds proceedings in the enormity of the vastness of time and space.
Available on Netflix now