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Review: 'The Dig' unearths solid period drama

Courtesy of Netflix


Headlined by Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, Simon Stone’s romantic period piece “The Dig” has plenty to unearth. Though rather conventional, and indoctrinated with its fair share of distracting subplots, there’s a light sensitivity in “The Dig” that’s worth exploring. At times playing like an extended episode of readers theaters, or an afternoon soap opera, “The Dig” isn’t without romance. Focusing on Mulligan and Fiennes’ then shifting gears to the blossoming relationship between a young couple played by Johnny Flynn and Lily James.

Despite the latter throwing off the picture’s balance, “The Dig” never loses its muster, and Mike Eley’s cinematography is a thing of beauty. Based on a true story, Stone’s film dramatizes how, days before World War II, an Anglo-Saxon burial ship was found with the Sutton Hoo treasure by elusive archaeologist Basil Brown (Fiennes) who for years received zero acknowledgement. Hired by Edith Pretty (Mulligan) – the landowner – after she was convinced over the years something was in the mounds.

As Brown, Fiennes plays him as a hardworking man of few words who understands the value he brings to the table. Mulligan’s Edith is a stern negotiator with enough wits and intelligence to keep the men on their toes. She’s touched by Brown’s dedication – and taking her young son under his wing – until snobby London folk come into focus, hellbent on taking ownership over their discoveries. Ken Stott is in rare form playing Charles Phillips, a stubborn archeologist who brings along the scholarly Stuart Piggott (Ben Chaplin) and his wife Margaret (James). And she’s got eyes for Edith’s cousin Rory (Flynn) who is set to earn his wings as a pilot in the forthcoming war.

It’s obvious within the first ten minutes of meeting them how unhappy Margaret and Stuart are. She catches the glimpse of a passionate couple making out in the streets, and later tries to arouse her husband but he’s not easily stimulated. Stone jams this obvious exposition down our throats, but at least the chemistry between Flynn and James is concrete.

Adapted by screenwriter Moira Buffini from the 2007 novel of the same name by John Preston, “The Dig” is rooted with a solid foundation and arresting performances. Some of the latter relationships lack depth compared to that of Mrs. Pretty and Mr. Brown and the constant threat of enemy forces or the eventual start of a second world war feels like an afterthought, Stone and Buffini show great respect for English culture and this narratives‘ sensational place in history.

Grade: B

THE DIG is now playing in select theaters and debuts on Netflix Friday, January 29th


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