'The Dig' Review: Carey Mulligan & Ralph Fiennes Want To See What Lies Beneath Them
These kind of movies still exist. What are those movies? As there has been a rapid evolution in movie theatres as far as the catalogue goes, whether that is the event-type of blockbuster, low risk/high reward horror or quiet indies in your local arthouse theatre, the ones that have found themselves falling between are mostly mid-level dramas, thrillers and comedies. Australian director Simon Stone’s and British writer Moira Buffini’s The Dig is both a painful and delightful reminder of simple stories with big hearts that you used to get more and I for one, have sorely missed somewhat. It already has the unkind fortune of being both a January release and Netflix distributed with barely any push behind it from them but also the year being 2021 means that it is coming out during award season. Since it is beautifully made, well acted and effectively told, you just hope that the audience is there.
Based on true findings of a burial site in England, Carey Mulligan plays a landowner Edith Pretty who hires an excavator Basil Brown (played by Ralph Fiennes) to dig through the mounds on her land in 1939. Brown's work and findings attract the attention of museums and people running them, such as Charles Phillips (wonderfully campy Ken Stott) as the second world war’s start lingers in the air. Edith and Basil strike a kinship as she is also suffering from a sickness and is also the widowed mom to her young son Robert (Archie Barnes). Talking about just ’’the digging’’ would be a disservice as the film tells multiple stories surrounding that; it’s about findings of Basil, legacy of Edith, preparing for war with Edith’s cousin Rory (Johnny Flynn), blooming romance between Rory and Peggy Piggott (Lily James) and both fulfilling and unfulfilling relationships. All of it is tastefully weaved together.
The simple story of digging up some of the country’s history is the kind of storytelling that you might have missed and the best thing about the movie, paired with well written characters even more so. It also gives a chance to feature some of the most low-key production design possible (work of Maria Djurkovic) but what is absolutely essential, recreation of the mounds and findings as well as details of Edith’s house are driving the visuals. Fiennes and Mulligan are also leading confidently when it comes to the big cast, Fiennes especially gets some sweet moments in scenes with Basil’s wife May (Monica Dolan) and Robert, to whom he is becoming a small father figure. But all of that once again becomes back to the story in hand, Buffini’s adaptation of John Preston’s novel manages to fill the characters with purpose and heart, something mid-level dramas became known for. Also helps that the archeology in The Dig is action for your brain.
Smileys: Story, production design, Ralph Fiennes
Frowneys: Nothing too bad
Will you dig it?