Based on the Sutton Hoo excavation of 1939, and the John Preston novel of the same name, is The Dig. Directed by Simon Stone, this historically based period piece focuses on landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hiring local, self taught archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to uncover the mystery behind the mounds on her estate. Hullabaloo and a battle for control follows, which includes the wide eyed and lustful interests of museums, particularly the self important Charles Phillips (Ken Stott).
It is an emotional film, the looming prospect of war creates a palpable sense of melancholia and urgency. It is a slow burner, with its relaxed pace matching its time and rural setting. A setting that is vividly brought to life by director of photography Mike Eley, who made the vast skies, winding country lanes and open fields of Suffolk look gorgeous. The relationships between Edith and Basil, and Basil and his loving wife May (Monica Dolan) provide a warm, heartfelt core – and is The Dig at its best.
Ralph Fiennes is the main event, playing the quiet, unimposing but proud Basil Brown with a down to earth believability. Eternally puffing on a pipe and sporting a spot on suffolk accent that he must have worked hard at. Carey Mulligan is as dependable as always, ensuring that the posh, mother of one landowner Edith is a good counterbalance for working class Basil and her boisterous son Robert – played by Archie Barnes.
Alas The Dig loses its way with numerous soap opera-esque subplots, chief among them Peggy’s (Lily James) marriage to Stuart (Ben Chaplin) and her connection with site photographer Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn). Far more time is spent on staid, fluffed up storylines than the excavation itself, which is to the detriment of the film. The lives, loves and troubles added to the mix in a bid to keep your interest are bland, unneccesary additions that detract from what you want more of – Edith, Basil and the dig.
A beautiful, slow burning drama with an engaging premise and a good build up, with this momentum derailed slightly by too much focus on uninteresting and unneccesary subplots.