Based on the novel of the same name about the discovery of the Sutton Hoo Anglo Saxon treasure, ‘The Dig’ is a period drama set under the impending shadow of the Second World War.
Having been intrigued by what lies beneath the ancient burial mounds on her land Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires the services of self- taught archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to reveal their treasures. Its not long before the contents are revealed to be of more value than expected and attract the attention of the British establishment who want to claim the treasures for themselves.
The Dig is at its strongest when focused on the relationship between Carey Mulligan’s wealthy widower and Ralph Fiennes’ working class excavator. The dynamic between them is fascinating and it is great to see two such talented actors on screen together. The two characters backgrounds initially cause them some friction as they are not sure how to deal with each other. Yet the bond they form once the British Museum tries to lay claim to site and take credit for Basil’s work gives (what could have been a stuffy period piece) a real sense of heart.
A country preparing for war is also always in the background, which is handled remarkably well here. The looming conflict is always a presence, with subtle moments of aircraft flying overhead to practice black outs in village pubs but never takes the viewers attention away the film’s characters.
It is a shame then that around the midway mark the film changes focus to a superfluous love story between two supporting characters that (up to this point) have not really offered a lot to the story, the cynical thought would be that on casting Lily James and Johhny Flynn the filmmakers felt the need to beef up their screen time or (sadly) they felt that the heart of the story would not be appealing enough to a wide audience. Whatever the reasoning it does not really work and you will be longing for Mulligan and Fiennes to return to the screen and for the film to finish the story it seemed eager to tell at the beginning.
It is easy to forgive a film a multitude of sins when it looks good though and The Dig does not just look good, it is staggeringly beautiful (made all the impressive by Netflix’s impeccable 4K presentation). The temptation to hit the pause button is constant from beginning to end. The work of cinematographer Mike Eley cannot be understated here and this will likely be one of the year’s best-looking films, from the Malick-esque exterior shots to the incredibly lit interior scenes, visually the film never puts a foot wrong.
Perhaps the film’s faults come down to the difficulty of adapting literary source material. The love story that doesn’t fit here is likely to have been given more time to breathe on the pages of a novel, but if you can look past that then is certainly a lot to like. The performances are superb and the film is certainly a sight to behold. Even if period dramas aren’t your thing there is still enough here to make this worth a look.
Author: Paul, Bath store