Dig, The

Rating:

A Hole in One

Main Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes

Director: Simon Stone

Sometimes I find myself in the mood for something quiet. I don’t want explosions or car chases or aliens or fart jokes. What I want is a British period piece. Thank you very much, Netflix, for serving me The Dig.

The Dig (based on the novel by John Preston) stars Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown. Basil has been an excavator his whole life – he was taught by his father. He works at archeological sites and he’s very accomplished. But he is not “properly” educated, something his employers love to mention.

Basil is summoned to the grand home of a young widow, Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), and her young son. There he is told that she would like him to excavate and investigate the burial mound on her property. The mounds are the reason she bought the land and she’d like to know what’s in them.

The Dig takes place during the weeks directly preceding WWII. Everyone knows the war is coming, and there is an urgency to life, a need to set things in order before devastation reigns.

That atmosphere is wrapped into the story of a man and his employer, both determined to examine the past in this true story of one of England’s most astounding archeological expeditions.

The Dig is slow and quiet, it’s important to know that going in. But it’s also fascinating, as both a character study and the tale of a fabulous adventure taking place literally beneath the characters’ feet. Basil Brown is a study in courteous stubbornness, as he very politely gets his way over and over again. Fiennes is just wonderful in the part, giving Basil an undercurrent of quiet dignity and carefully contained anger.

Carey Mulligan is also good, but her character could have been developed more deeply. I do want to know more about Edith Pretty. Standout supporting cast members include Ben Chaplin and Lily James as team members assisting on the project.

The cinematography by Mike Eley is phenomenal. His use of rain and overcast skies to express the oppressive days preceding war is risky (a washed-out color palette in an already understated movie), but it works completely. The dig is astonishing, but the magic of it is swept away and clouded by the looming and unavoidable disaster. The period elements are also well done without being pushy. They form a visual framework that never overshadows the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dig, from start to finish. It is a confidant and surefooted film that does everything it sets out to do without unnecessary embellishment or historical revisions. The story and characters are well written and performed, the visual expression of the atmosphere is outstanding, and the entire production sucks the viewer straight into this pre-war world. Bravo to all involved.

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