Film Review: The Dig (2021)

Simon Stone creates a beautifully warm Britflick in the gentle Sutton Hoo drama The Dig

“Don’t let Ipswich Museum take your glory”

If you had to guess which particular avant-garde theatre director was responsible for The Dig, I’m pretty sure no-one would plump for Simon Stone. But after blistering takes on the likes of Medea, Yerma and The Wild Duck, UK historico-fiction is where we’ve ended up and what a rather lovely thing it is.

Written by Moira Buffini from John Preston’s novel, The Dig takes the true story of the Sutton Hoo excavation, when a self-taught archaeologist unearthed an Anglo-Saxon burial mound, and builds a world of classic English emotional restraint around it, even as amazing treasure is revealed.

Ralph Fiennes is typically excellent as the gruff Basil Brown, who is hired by landowner and widow Edith Pretty to investigate the mounds on her property about which she has a certain feeling. Carey Mulligan also impresses even if she is a shade too young, and the understated way in which Stone allows the emotional connection between the pair to slowly take shape, as wafer-thin layer after layer of reserve is brushed away, is just lovely.

In some ways, it’s a bit of a shame that the second half of the film pivots to other characters around the dig itself, positing a love triangle (Lily James and Johnny Flynn are pretty but nowhere near as engaging). But the return to ideas of historical legacy provide for a moving ending (and in my case, a gasp of ‘oh no’ at one of the end titles). Plus, Monica Dolan steals every scene she’s in as Basil’s endlessly tolerant wife. Worth a watch.

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