Netflix’s The Dig regales the story of the 1939 Sutton Hoo excavation, a monumental discovery for British archeologists. Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate mysterious mounds on her property. What begins as a small, three person operation grows into a stunning discovery of national importance. When archeologists arrive from the British museum, they bring a new team with them, who in turn bring their own drama to the fold.
While the excavation itself pushes the story forward, the characters face their own trials, and this is where the heart of the movie lies. Mrs. Pretty struggles to cope with her failing health, and the idea that her life is something fleeting. One of the excavators, Peggy Piggot (Lily James), struggles to gain the respect of the men on the project, and even her husband. Amidst all of the struggles to carefully recover what has laid underground for centuries, Mrs. Pretty’s little boy, Robert (Archie Barnes), dreams of exploring the Cosmos. All while warplanes sail the skies, and England’s involvement in World War II creeps closer to existence.
In regards to its characters, The Dig pulls off an exciting achievement; as the viewer, there isn’t anyone that you find yourself really rooting against. Except for the jerk archeologist, but not liking him is the whole point. He’s the establishment! If two characters are at odds with each other, the hope is that one of the characters succeeds, not that one character fails. Naturally, for one to win, one must lose, but it’s less about the failure and the hope for the disliked character to get their comeuppance. It’s the pure satisfaction when a character you were rooting for achieves something for themselves.
The Dig also treats its two main female characters with a healthy respect. Of the two women that were in the thick of the story, both were given vastly different storylines that stemmed from an identical theme; passing time. However, this realization was brought about by something completely unrelated to the tone or the theme, and more related to just blanket respect for women. In the first half of the movie, there were two easy opportunities to show a woman’s chest, in a sexual and nonsexual manner. The film took neither opportunity, and I was stunned. Even more, I was thrilled. Because that wasn’t the time, and The Dig understood that.
The Dig begins with an exciting, happy tone that is supported by a lively score and cinematography that almost borders on shaky. It was steady and professional, but also gave the delightful sense that the person filming could be just as excited as the characters making the discovery. The sense of excitement and possibility sets up a bright tone for the beginning of the film, which then slowly starts to become deeper as the story progresses. It’s expected that this is what would happen, but the predictability doesn’t take away from the story. If anything, it adds to it, because of how universal the experience is. Things often start out great, but as something becomes real, the inevitable challenges are never far behind.
The film’s ending doesn’t necessarily wrap up the story, but makes clear that a new stage of the characters’ lives is on the horizon. This fits perfectly with the theme of passing time, and all of its different interpretations. Overall, The Dig is a film about the passage of time and the discovery of something new. It may not be riveting, but it’s an entertaining story that tugs at your heartstrings and leaves you satisfied as the credits roll.
This article was written by a guest contributor