A Netflix Original Picture, Written by Moira Buffini, Directed by Simon Stone.
With a country on the brink of war in the late 1930s, wealthy landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to investigate the mounds on her property in England. He and his team discover a ship from the Dark Ages while digging up a burial ground, uncovering one of the greatest treasures ever found in England. Based on the novel by John Preston, director Simon Stone tells a fictionalised story of true events in this Netflix drama.
The Dig (2021) is a slow and patient film, one which never ventures into unnecessary melodrama and instead stays focused on the characters and the specific story it wants to tell. It is relaying the events of one of the most important, and yet still surprisingly not well known, archaeological finds on British soil. The film never shy’s away from the fact that this is the story it is telling, but it also acknowledges that archaeological digs may not be the most gripping thing to solely focus on, so they make this very much a character focused drama and look at the different people involved in the dig, and what their lives were like at this very particular time in British history.
The whole cast is very strong here, although on the most part there is little for the supporting cast to do. The likes of Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, and Archie Barnes all do good work supporting the main trio, but especially in the case of Flynn and Chaplin, they feel like they are taking up each other’s screen time and only one character was really necessary to fill that narrative space.
As for the lead trio, Ralph Fiennes does some really solid and unflashy character work, never stretching to dominate scenes and instead always staying true to the character created. He makes for a very empathetic lead and it is understandable why the other characters care for him so much too.
As for the other major lead, Carey Mulligan is just as good as you would expect from one of the finest and most transformative actresses working today. She makes Edith a very melancholy and yet still kind and charming character; someone you can see is in a lot of pain but at her heart is kind and wants to make the most of life. Mulligan is significantly younger than the real Edith and this does have an impact at times, with the illness she is struggling with and the feeling of this being ‘towards the end of her life’ being slightly negated by Mulligan’s youthful appearance. This takes nothing away from Mulligan though, and this can be another addition to her already varied and impressive filmography.
Lily James arrives around half way through the film and quickly becomes the stand out, stealing the film with her charm, beauty and acting style that just instantly draws the audience in. Her character is saddled with multiple unnecessary sub-plots, some which threaten to venture into bizarre cliché, but none of this matter’s as James manages to shine through it all. She is a hugely talented actress, with a lot of untouched range, and if she gets the right opportunities, her career is only going to continue to skyrocket from here.
Visually the film is incredibly nice to look at, with some really warm and impressive cinematography. This really helps sell the film and efficiently grounds it in the time period it takes place in, and while it is likely the technical work on display will go unnoticed this awards season, it really does deserve praise.
Overall, there is a real comfort and warmth to every part of this film, and while it is not a thought-provoking game changer or some of the finest work you will see in years, it certainly is worth watching and is really enjoyable, especially right now.
Rating = 3.5/5