Will you dig it? Review of Netflix film The Dig

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in Netflix's The Dig.  

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in Netflix's The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

With cinemas still temporarily closed until lockdown restrictions are eased, streaming sites such as Netflix have come into their own.

Netflix has released a string of new movies this year already, with The Dig one of the streamer's latest British offerings.

Here our film critic Paul Steward reviews The Dig, which is based on the real-life excavation of Sutton Hoo.


Starring Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, this latest Netflix feature tells the tale of the 1940s discovery of an Anglo-Saxon ship buried in the east Suffolk soil.

With the Second World War looming, landowner Edith Pretty (Mulligan) enlists local amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (Fiennes) to excavate a collection of large earth mounds on her property.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

The discovery that followed was one of the most significant finds in British history.

Directed by Simon Stone, the film boasts an impressive array of British acting talent which, in addition to its heavyweight leads, includes Lily James, Johnny Flynn and Ken Stott.

Netflix movie The Dig stars Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes.

Netflix movie The Dig stars Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes. - Credit: Netflix

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Stott is Charles Phillips, an archaeologist sent by the British Museum to oversee the excavation, and is the embodiment of the snooty establishment.

While James and Flynn add depth to the supporting cast as Peggy Piggott, a demure historian selected for her slight frame, and Pretty’s cousin Rory, who arrives to assist Basil in his efforts.

Lily James as Peggy in The Dig.

Lily James as Peggy in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

The success of the film hangs on the performances of its two leads, both of whom are excellent.

Mulligan, who is tipped to receive a second Oscar nomination this year for her role in the film Promising Young Woman, delivers a stoic performance as the ailing Pretty.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty in The Dig.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

Suffering from an undefined health condition, she shows admirable loyalty towards Brown as the authorities attempt to sideline him.

Whilst her sadness is always just beneath the surface as the realisation of her worsening condition dawns.

Fiennes, born in nearby Ipswich, gives a thoroughly heartfelt performance as Brown, the self-taught local archeologist.

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in Netflix's The Dig.  

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in Netflix's The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

His authentic turn is aided by a faultless and subtly delivered Suffolk accent, something he was at pains to get right, working with dialect coach Charlie Haylock during the shoot.

Brown forms a strong bond with Pretty’s young son Robert, taking on the father figure role in his life, whilst his platonic relationship with Pretty herself is the beating heart of the film.

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig.

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

The script from Moira Buffini is adapted from the John Preston novel of the same name and does its best with its interesting but rather dry subject matter.

The addition of a fictional romance between Flynn and James’s characters is clearly included to add a little spice to proceedings.

Johnny Flynn as Rory Lomax and Lily James as Peggy Piggott in The Dig.  

Johnny Flynn as Rory Lomax and Lily James as Peggy Piggott in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

And thanks to the chemistry between the pair, it just about achieves this without seeming forced.

Cinematographer Mike Eley also deserves plaudits for capturing the big skies and flat Suffolk landscape so elegantly.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown of The Dig.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown of The Dig. - Credit: Larry Horricks/Netflix

The film is beautifully cinematic and would have benefitted from the big screen experience were it possible. 

Perfect for winter Sunday afternoon viewing, The Dig never manages to excite, but it is a gentle and intelligently made film, which wisely focuses on the characters behind this historic British find.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty in The Dig.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

Lily James as Peggy in The Dig.

Lily James as Peggy in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty in The Dig.

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty in The Dig. - Credit: Netflix

The Dig

The Dig stars Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown. - Credit: Larry Horricks/Netflix

The Dig examines the Sutton Hoo find in Suffolk.

The Dig examines the Sutton Hoo find in Suffolk. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

Ben Chaplin as Stuart Piggott and Lily James as Peggy in The Dig. 

Ben Chaplin as Stuart Piggott and Lily James as Peggy in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 


 

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