Widowed landowner Edith Pretty has a feeling about the large mounds on her Sussex property. Although her gender had nixed her chance to attend college, her wealth allowed her to be a world traveler. As a result, Pretty knows things about archeology and history. She hires Basil Brown, a local excavator whose love of history matches her own. Their mutual respect shines—a touchstone in this moving story.
Conflict explodes after the film’s antagonist arrives in the form of the famous archeologist Charles Phillips, who seems to be Brown’s opposite.
The film is based on actual events in 1939 after Brown’s digging uncovered something rather interesting.
Character actors make the cast: Ralph Fiennes as Brown, the uneducated wise man and “digger”; Carey Mulligan as Pretty, the ailing landowner; and Ken Stott as Phillips, the arrogant archeologist. Angel-faced Archie Barnes plays the beautiful boy who is armed with more courage than many adults.
Thirty-six-year-old Simon Stone directed this deep-to-the-marrow story. That he was 12 when he watched his dad die of a heart attack may explain The Dig’s depth. Failure and beauty, death and life; Simon Stone knows. This Australian actor/director has suffered and is an able storyteller as a result.
That The Dig is based on a novel may explain its one false step—perhaps in trying to follow the novel too closely, Stone grafts new characters plus a subplot too late in the story: the unhappy marriage of Peggy Piggot (Lily James). Even though Piggot is a historical figure of note, I found I didn’t care much about her character and subplot.
One scene includes brief nudity.
Despite the subplot’s misstep, though, for those who love quiet and deep movies, I heartily recommend this wise gem. (Netflix)