Reel Review – The Dig (2021)

Director: Simon Stone | 1h 52mins | Drama, Biography

Local excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) takes a job digging up mysterious mounds on the land of Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan). When they make a monumental discovery, a crew is brought in to help with the dig.

Recently we wrote a review for Paul Greengrass’ News of the World, a film that exists purely in it’s runtime as an enjoyable distraction from the current reality we are in. It’s a feeling that’s matched by Simon Stone’s incredibly British historical drama, The Dig. While Greengrass’ Western may be the more engaging of the two films The Dig certainly has a quaint charm to it, finding solace in a peaceful camera style that’s able to catch the raw beauty in the English country, as well as giving us a slice of history that many will appreciate. 

The story is about Sutton Hoo, which is considered one of the best archeological finds in British history. Based on the novel by John Preston, the story of The Dig reimagines some of the real-life people and scenarios in order to build a quiet drama that challenges our own self preservation, and what it must have been like to discover such a monumental thing in the face of World War II – where the very existence and preservation of a nation were at risk. 

The early scenes see Basil, played gruff and earnestly by Fiennes, as he takes on the job given to him by Edith. Here there are scenes of early discovery, just setting the basic foundation of the unknowing of what’s to come, but it’s the backdrop that catches the eye more so than anything. The sun-kissed fields and peaceful tone are quite soothing, but not once does it ever sacrifice the true meaning of the film – which is to immortalise those who didn’t get the credit they deserve. 

While it’s great to see a film with such a thin story do it’s best to build as much sentiment as possible, it’s a shame we didn’t get to see more from each of the stories given to us.

Later on in the film, when the novelty of striking visuals and quaint British politeness between Basil and Edith becomes tiresome, Stone interjects some new characters to liven things up. When the discovery of the ginormous Anglo-Saxon boat comes to the public’s attention, ‘more qualified’ archeologists come to take over. The film then begins to take shape and becomes more about the characters, but it’s here that the film unfortunately falters, lacking the depth that you feel these characters deserve. 

Edith Pretty struggles with a heart condition and the thought of leaving her only son all alone, Lily James’ character Peggy tries to deal with her loveless marriage and Edith’s cousin Rory, played by Johnny Flynn, struggles with the idea of joining the RAF despite his feelings towards Peggy. While it’s great to see a film with such a thin story do it’s best to build as much sentiment as possible, it’s a shame we didn’t get to see more from each of the stories given to us. That being said, the performances given by the entire cast are enjoyable nonetheless. 

There are so many things to enjoy about Simon Stone’s Netflix drama; the gorgeous cinematography, admirable performances and also the wholesome feel of community victory in the face of such a dreary time in British history. But, it feels like it’s catered to a specific audience and, for a film that’s about excavation, it could have dug a little deeper into its characters and narrative.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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