The Dig review: Netflix’s archeological drama gets caught in a bad romance

Robert Preston’s 2007 historic unique The Dig was influenced by an obscure however traditionally substantial British occasion: on the eve of The second world war, in 1939 Suffolk, a self-taught yet well-experienced excavator, Basil Brown, was contacted us to the nation estate of Edith Pretty, a widowed mom of one. Mrs. Pretty employed Brown, explained by his associates as a tough and unconventional male, to mine the big burial mounds inhabiting her yard. While numerous thought the mounds gone back to the Vikings, Brown had other concepts. Their collaboration, along with the aid of others, resulted in among Britain’s greatest historical finds — a 7th-century Anglo-Saxon burial ship.

Simon Stone’s traditionally inspired Netflix movie The Dig, adjusted by Moira Buffini from Preston’s unique, takes on the obscure historic occasion to craft an often laborious love worrying war and death that’s bitten by worn out Hollywood conventions. The Dig avoids the nitty-gritty information some archaeology connoisseurs may long for. Rather, its pastoral romance serves those searching for a melodramatic escape.

Think about the casting of Carey Mulligan as Mrs. Pretty. Her conservative closet includes big topcoats, ankle-length floral-patterned gowns, and downplayed bonnets, which match her reserved character. And she experiences an unidentified incapacitating disorder, at first detected as ulcer-related stress and anxiety, that zaps much of her vitality. Mrs. Pretty remained in her late 50s throughout the movie’s pre-World War II historic occasions, however Stone makes her twenty years more youthful. Mulligan is normally an ensured star, however in The Dig, where she isn’t even aged by makeup or prosthetics, she’s woefully miscast as a lady beaten down by the devastations of old age.

Carey Mulligan stands at the top of an excavation in a grassy mound as Ralph Fiennes explores it from below in The Dig

Image: Larry Horricks / Netflix

The choice to cast Mulligan may come from the truth of Mrs. Pretty bring to life her boy Robert (Archie Barnes) when she was 47. While Stone undertakings to illustrate Mrs. Pretty as a singularly identified lady, willful enough, in later scenes, to eliminate the British Museum for control of the Anglo-Saxon artifact, he obscures her identity as an older mom in the hopes of teasing her as a prospective love interest for the considerably older Brown (Ralph Fiennes). The choice pitches The Dig in with other traditional duration pieces, such as The Last Samurai and Where Angels Worry to Tread, where the widowed better half succumbs to a guy who shows up by opportunity. Though Stone luckily doesn’t stay because register for long, the idea that this will be a basic love makes the movie’s opening duller than it requires to be. Once Stone diverts his focus from both Mrs. Pretty and Brown to another swirling love, the narrative gains momentum.

After Brown discovers a possible Viking ship underneath the burial mounds, the site comes to the attention of the pretentious Charles Phillips (Ken Scott), archaeologist for the British Museum. Phillips commandeers the site and brings in other archeologists, like married couple Stuart (Ben Chaplin) and Peggy Piggott (Lily James) to assist in excavating. Though Stuart cares for Peggy, his affections are rarely intimate. He opts for single beds at their inn, and ignores Peggy’s multiple shows of affection. Stuart finds far more comfort in the company of his male friends. Peggy, is left unnoticed until she comes under the romantic eye of Mrs. Pretty’s dashing cousin Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn). It’s through their burgeoning love the outside world impedes upon the dig.

The signs of looming war are everywhere in The Dig: RAF planes fly above the Suffolk countryside, fresh recruits are boarding the backs of army trucks, and in London, soldiers are sandbagging statues. But Mrs. Pretty’s serene patch of land, captured by cinematographer Mike Eley in lyrical handheld shots, is untethered from the worried country. Peggy and Rory’s swooning romance, weighed by the latter’s looming deployment to the RAF, not only brings this slow burn to a boil, but it makes the war’s oncoming dangers immediately felt. James and Flynn are also such an aesthetically pleasing pair. With the sparsest of screen time, they maintain Peggy and Rory’s simmering mutual desire with a knowing glance here, an eye-lock there.

Rory and Peggy make awkward eyes at each other in The Dig

Photo: Larry Horricks / Netflix

Other arcs take flight, too, as Robert comes of age through fairy tales, and Stuart explores a latent gay relationship with a colleague. But neither of those subplots pull with the same intensity as Mrs. Pretty’s dread of her mortality and her desire to be remembered. The possible Viking ship Brown uncovers, from its intended purpose as a tomb to its clear symbolism as an artifact of legacy, represents the cyclical ways humans try to commemorate our brief time on earth. It’s why Brown fears the snobbish Phillips will erase his name from the discovery, why Mrs. Pretty desperately tries to wrestle control of the found artifacts from Phillips, or why Rory takes photographs of the excavation. They’re hoping, through this historic discovery, to be remembered.

A beautifully rendered pre-war parable for the fleeting nature of love and life, The Dig initially doesn’t lean as closely toward mortality’s gate as it should. Stone, for much of the movie, seems lost between two different stories: the intimate archeological relationship between Brown and Mrs. Pretty, and the larger romantic canvas of Rory and Peggy. To interlock the competing narrative he drastically prunes the former so the latter might blossom, and in the process, stunts both. Leaving history buffs wanting, and for a time, leaving those searching for sentimental escapism adrift. However once he totally sheds the archaeological components for a palpable sense of melancholy in the face of death, The Dig ends up being the kind of enthusiastic duration piece worth cuddling up to.

The Dig opens in minimal theatrical release on January 15, and broadens to Netflix release on January 29. Inspect Polygon’s standards for regional theater security here.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.