There is more to The Dig than meets the eye. It is not a historically accurate account of the excavation of Sutton Hoo but a film about relationships past, present and future among other things. Adapted from John Preston’s 2007 novel, screenwriter Moira Buffini whose previous credits include the voluptuous Harlots, pens a screenplay that at times is exciting but retains an air of subtly throughout. Two aspects that cannot be faulted are the films cinematography, which captures the Suffolk landscape at times like a painting and the leading performances from Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan. Fiennes portrays working-class archaeologist Basil Brown with subtle strength, a man who’s aware of his talent but when subject to snobbery needs to be reminded. Mulligan portrays Edith Pretty as a woman initially reinvigorated as Brown begins to discover what he believes is an Anglo-Saxon burial ship, only then to find herself caved in, after health problems force her to reevaluate the future.
It cannot be overlooked that the film faulters in the second act. The introduction of the romantic subplot between fictional Rory Lomax played by Johnny Flynn and Peggy Pigott played by Lily James takes away from the awe of discovery that initially invested you in the first act. Their relationship serves to remind us of the unlikeliness of a romantic connection between Brown and Pretty, as well as the looming shadow of WWII as Lomax has signed up as an RAF pilot.
Despite this, there are positives. Ken Stott gives a brilliant performance as snobbish British Museum archaeologist, who is intent on taking the discovered artifacts to the museum’s collection in London. Archie Barns, who plays Mulligan’s son Robert Pretty, gives an impressive performance, creating a personal link between Fiennes and Mulligan’s characters. It is this link that creates another connection between present and future. This perfectly highlighted in a latter scene where Edith lies on the excavated ship staring at the night sky with Brown and Robert.
Whilst the film does not dig as deep into Brown and Pretty’s relationship as the excavation, it is worth the watch for its strong performances and British charm alone.