The Dig (2021)

The Dig is a 2021 British historical drama film directed by Simon Stone, based on the 2007 novel of the same name by John Preston, which reimagines the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo. The movie stars Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin and Ken Stott.

Based on real life events in England when Europe (and ultimately the world) was on the cusp of a war, The Dig is an elegiac rumination on death and legacy. The story revolves around Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty (Mulligan), who hires local self-taught archaeologist-excavator Basil Brown (Fiennes) to tackle the large burial mounds at her rural estate in Sutton Hoo. Brown eventually discovers a significant artefact – a 6th century Anglo-Saxon ship utilised to bury a very important person of the time, most probably a king.

While there is drama, tension and conflict built around the implications of this discovery – for example, who is in charge, which institution will the artefact ultimately be housed etc – the real engagement lies in the lives of the characters involved.

For the widowed Mrs Pretty, there is the matter of ill health which will impact the future of her young son, Robert. For Brown, it is the issue of recognition which has often been denied him due to his lack of qualifications. In addition, there is a question of romance as female archaeologist Peggy Piggott (Lily James) becomes disillusioned with husband Stuart – a closeted homosexual – and gets entangled with Pretty’s cousin Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn).

Of course, none of these sub-plots are true to life but artistic and dramatic license decree that these stories are written so that a stronger message can be communicated. Life is fleeting and moments must be seized, to paraphrase Mrs Pretty, as she senses that her life is coming to an end.

The final act of The Dig, is quite sobering as none of the primary characters emerge untouched by the circumstances – the movie urges its viewers to contemplate the brevity of life and to appreciate what we have, while we still have it. A worthy message. Highly recommended.

Now streaming on Netflix.

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