A highly entertaining old-fashioned historical drama about one of the greatest finds in history. On Netflix.
“Unorthodox and untrained,” so Basil Brown’s (Ralph Fiennes) colleagues call him.
The Dig is the true, romantic story of the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon (6th and 7th centuries) artifacts discovered in Suffolk, England 1938-39. Thanks to the owner of the mounds, Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), and her “untrained” excavator, Basil Brown, The National Trust and The British Museum now display a ship and its numerous gold and silver treasures, fit for the king buried with them.
Director Simon Stone and writer Moira Buffini, from the John Preston novel, have fashioned an exciting, old-fashioned cinematic history on the events surrounding the dig. The artifacts are only briefly depicted as the real adventure is the determination of Pretty and Brown to give the world a thrill unlike anything since the Tutankhamen Egyptian discovery between 1922 and 1927.
Needless to say, local museums and their formally-trained archeologists are disdainful of these amateurs succeeding in the greatest find of anyone’s career. The gentle but expert determination of Brown and Pretty is the driving force of the film, yet carefully considerate of the treasure waiting for 3000 years. Their respect of each other and the find is palpable, a model for anyone aspiring to be an excavator of note.
The human dimension is the basis of the romance, shown in Pretty’s love of her land and the mounds and her affection for Brown, a most competent, reserved, and loving older man. The ever-present threat of WWII hangs over everything, a reality in the fall of 1939 that will suck romance from the globe and make ascendant the evil so opposite the spirit of the dig.
Brown’s interaction with Pretty’s young son, Robert (Archie Barnes), as they observe the sky through Brown’s telescope and act a father-son-like relationship, is even more touching than the Brown-Petty connection. These loving connections help confirm the filmmakers’ and the authors’ intent to connect the past with the present in a strong human bond.
In effect, everyone involved in the making of this adventure created a bond with the Anglo-Saxons that navigates the corridor between human civilizations and their future connections somewhere in the cosmos. Just what James Joyce found in the Dubliners’ cemetery, “melancholy unity between the living and the dead.”
Director: Simon Stone (The Daughter)
Screenplay: Moira Buffini (Harlots), from John Preston novel
Cast: Carey Mulligan (Impressive Young Woman), Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List)
Run Time: 1h 52 m
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com