The Dig review – you won’t have to dig far to enjoy this film

January 18, 2021
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews, Netflix


It’s really something when a film is not too concerned with the aesthetic but will find the beauty in discovery of one’s own. The Dig is a good picture, wonderfully acted (Ralph Fiennes is tremendous here), and an engrossing reimagining.



It’s really something when a film is not too concerned with the aesthetic but will find the beauty in discovery of one’s own. The Dig is a good picture, wonderfully acted (Ralph Fiennes is tremendous here), and an engrossing reimagining.

The Dig will stream on Netflix starting January 29th, 2021

Let’s just get this out of the way: The Dig, the film by Aussie Simon Stone, is a good picture. A film with a light touch on multiple themes woven together without being preachy or taking itself too seriously. It wants to tell its simple story well, and it’s all the better for it. This is what separates The Dig from most reimaginings of the based-on-a-true-story history or biography. What elevates Stone’s latest film is it has two immense talents in the leads — the great Ralph Fiennes, and the hottest actress at the moment who has finally hit a career peak with Promising Young Woman this year, Carey Mulligan.

Based on the novel of the same name by John Preston, The Dig reimagines what transpired when the greatest treasure in the history of England, Sutton Hoo, was discovered. Fiennes plays excavator Basil Browne, who comes from a family of self-taught archaeologists. He is hired by Mulligan’s Ms. Pretty, a recent widow who is raising her young son while the threat of World War II could begin at any moment. She has become spiritual over the years and is under ill-health from catching rheumatic fever as a child. She wants to know what exactly is under all those large mounds on her massive estate. Brown discovers what archaeologists and looters for centuries had missed: The discovery of Sutton Hoo that dates back to the days of Beauwolf.

The Dig is a wonderfully acted film and Stone has assembled a team that doesn’t try to fit themes of class, our past, shared history, or even sexual identity where they don’t belong. This is a film, with a screenplay by Moira Buffini, which takes those themes and makes them just as enthralling as the adventure of discovering hidden treasures is engrossing. The film has a deep bench of actors, which includes Rebecca’s Lily James, Ben Chaplin (Snowden), Johnny Flynn (Emma), and Ken Scott (The Hobbit trilogy), to convey the film’s story and underlying message.

The Dig has just the right blend of cinematic fluff here without falling face-first into complete melodrama. I wouldn’t call Mulligan’s Pretty and Fiennes’ Brown chemistry as the “when will they Sam and Diane situation” where most films will go these days. There is an honest process to this story here and their relationship. Basil Brown is a good man with a working-class background and Ms. Pretty is a rich widower who likes to get her hands dirty. They have a general admiration for each other that could have turned into more in another time or place. It’s a gutsy thing these days to have a life goes on ending that I admired.

The fluff we talked about has to do with James’ depiction of the famed real-life archeologist, Peggy Preston, who is newly married to an older and more accomplished archeologist at the time, Stuart Piggott (Chaplin). She has caught the eye of Ms. Pretty’s young nephew, Charlie (Flynn), who is going to get called into the air force at any moment with WWII looming. The fact that this secondary love triangle has a modern theme without dominating the story gives mainstream audiences a little cinematic romance along with its healthy portion of greater ideals.

The Dig moves so well and is so cohesive in its storytelling, you might think this was created by a filmmaker with decades of experience behind the camera. Stone, at the young age of 35, is an accomplished theatre director. This has been a marvelous year for theatre directors, to go along with Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth and Florian Zeller’s The Father. They all have shown a steady hand and grounded technique, allowing the story to take center stage. That, and the combination of two great actors that are anything but showy. They are understated and low-key, even if one is a working-class man and the other has all the money in the world. Just like the team involved with this discovery of Sutton Hoo, the men and women assembled here work together to tell an entertaining story. They both understand brevity while letting lines linger and listening can say so much more than filling up dead air.

It’s something when a film is not too concerned with aesthetic beauty but will find the beauty in the discovery of one’s own. The Dig won’t bring home any big awards, but it’s a good picture with a little bit of something for everyone that is entertaining and meaningful.

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