THE DIG (2021, streaming on Netflix) is an enjoyable, pass-the-time film about archaeology while including enough drama to please those looking for more. It’s a satisfying film, though I would have enjoyed it more if it focused on the dig and its remarkable find.
Based on the novel by John Preston, which is in turn based on true events, the film is about the excavation of burial mounds on a rural property in England in 1939, which results in one of the most important archeological finds in British history. Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), who owns the land, hires amateur archeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate a large burial mound, which turns up remarkable treasures that redefine modern understanding of the Dark Ages following the Romans leaving the island. As an amateur, Brown never received credit until recently.
The find showed that the Dark Ages weren’t quite all that dark, and that culture, art, and trade survived and even flourished during these years and among the barbaric invaders of the British isles. The film plays the excavation and discovery well, and this aspect of the film kept me watching. It’s not quite explored enough, as the film gives the find’s archeological significance its due but doesn’t geek on it the way I would have loved. For that, you can Google articles about the actual excavation and treasures found at Sutton Hoo.
After the initial find, a team of professional archaeologists shows up, and that’s where things take a more dramatic bent. Thematically, it’s done well, as Pretty is dying and concerned about what of her if anything might live on, WW2 and its historical significance looms, and a young couple who shouldn’t be together realize they should live their lives on their own terms. Very artistic direction–cutaways to little details in the landscape and people looking at each other while dialogue from previous conversations take place–attempts to capture a literary feel. Even with it, the result is fairly staid, though again, it’s enjoyable, and I’m happy to see a movie made like this about archaeology and in particular this important discovery. So overall, I’d grade this film a B, though for its intended audience I think it’s an A film.