Based on a novel published in 2007 inspired by real events, The Dig, that is currently streaming on Netflix, is a straightforward historical drama, built on the 1939 excavation of the Sutton Hoo mound. Ralph Fiennes is Basil Brown, a self-taught archaeologist that is hired by upper-class lady Edith Pretty (as portrayed by carey Mulligan) to excavate in her land in search of hidden archaeological remains.
The movie is beautiful to look at, and takes its time to linger lovingly on the British landscapes in which much of the action takes place. A number of plots intersect in the story, that refreshingly gives us the relationship of two individuals that have no sentimental or sexual involvement whatsoever, but just a shared love and awe for history and the passing of time.
Along the way, the film finds the time to portray the effects of class on academical endeavours and research – Brown’s a lower class farmer, considered little more than a digger by the archaeologists that try to step in once the treasure’s unearthed, and the archaeologists are still just middle class when confronted with the rich upper class miss Pretty. The way in which the social class dance is carried on is part of the fun of the movie.
And we also get a romantic story, involving two side characters – quite superfluous, but at least played with elegance. Indeed, the movie (and the novel) play fast and loose with some historical elements to add flavor and romanticism – as I mentioned, somewhat superfluously.
At the core of the story, there remains the relationship between people and history, and the very intimate relationship each one of us has, one way or another, with time itself, and what we make of it.
An excellent movie, filled with great actors and beautifully shot, it’s highly recommended.