If you’ve binge-watched The Crown and Bridgerton and want your next period drama fix on Netflix, look no further than Carey Mulligan’s latest movie, The Dig.
The Dig is based on John Preston’s novel of the same name, which reimagines the events surrounding the real-life excavation of Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk, England in 1939.
Mulligan stars as Edith Pretty, a widower who hires self-taught excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to dig up the mysterious mounds in her expanse of fields. Once they uncover an Anglo-Saxon ship, the discovery becomes big news and archaeologists descend upon the site, hoping to claim it for either The British Museum or the Ipswich Museum. These included married couple Stuart and Peggy Piggott (Ben Chaplin and Lily James), while Edith calls up her cousin Rory (Johnny Flynn) to help.
I doubt many people would want to sit through a movie solely about the dig as watching people shovel dirt and meticulously move soil around with a brush to find long-buried artefacts is painfully dull and slow. Thankfully, there’s some added excitement with the characters, from Edith’s secret illness, Stuart and Peggy’s troubled marriage, and Basil’s fight to lead the dig when the academic archaeologists want to take over, not to mention the threat of World War II looming in the background.
Even with these elements, Simon Stone’s movie is still just a simple, gentle and pleasant affair. It looks gorgeous, with some stunning cinematography depicting the English countryside and the dig site (which looks amazing once it’s completed uncovered), but there’s not enough substance to grab onto and make viewers really care about the story. Not every film needs high-stakes drama to work, but this needed a little more oomph to liven things up.
Mulligan, who is no stranger to period dramas, is well cast as the refined Edith, who tries to keep up appearances despite her illness. Fiennes was an interesting choice for the unorthodox local man; while his Suffolk accent wasn’t convincing the whole time, he gave a strong performance. Basil has the most interesting journey in the film as he begins as this grouchy gruff man and wins everyone over in the end.
The Dig is an easy, pleasant and harmless watch with a strong cast and stunning cinematography; but offers the audience very little to get excited about.