Inspired by an extraordinary true story, 'The Dig' reimagines the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo. Convinced that there are some treasures within the burial mounds on her estate, a wealthy widow and landowner named Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires an amateur archaeologist named Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate the area. He makes an incredible, ancient discovery which soon has museums vying for a piece of the pie. A team assembles to fully excavate the area. But they are racing against the clock as a second world war seems imminent.
Not to be confused with Irish movie 'The Dig', released in 2018 and starring Moe Dunford, both arguably share in common the theme of the relentlessness of working the land (tracing back in Irish culture to John B. Keane's 'The Field' and beyond). But this 2021 movie using the title is far more optimistic in tone. It shows the life and wonders that can be contained in the ground too.
'The Dig' can be slow-moving in parts and simplistic. But it is led by two phenomenal actors in Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan. They're joined by the likes of Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, Ken Stott and Monica Dolan. The acting really elevates the story to something more.
The time limit of the endeavour adds tension to the proceedings, and there are a couple of remarkable scenes, including one early on involving a landslide. It's dramatic and you feel your heart in your throat as brutal close ups of fingers and nails desperately clawing at the soil dominate. It's traumatic looking and a really visceral sequence.
Disappointment in love features more than once. Just as the pacing is starting to dawdle, Peggy Piggott (Lily James) and her husband Stuart (Ben Chaplin) arrive along with a "marriage in trouble" narrative with Peggy's eye wandering for a younger, more sensitive man.
That's the thing going for 'The Dig', really, in that there are enough dramatic turns happening to keep you invested (though at 1 hr 52 mins, one does feel it could have been tightened up). Moreover, it's populated by nice people taking on this very worthy venture. The film is charming and difficult to fault too much. It's just nothing special, so one isn't inclined to shout its praises from the rooftop. Watch it with mammy or granny and all will be content. Then you'll all forget about it later.
'The Dig' streams on Netflix from 29 January.