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The Dig. The new, historical re-imagining of the Sutton Hoo excavation in Surrey has just landed on Netflix. It was also just the soothing soul-balm I needed.
The plot is a simple one, but one that strikes a powerful impact:
“In the late 1930s, wealthy landowner Edith Pretty hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate the mounds on her property in England. He and his team discover a ship from the Dark Ages while digging up a burial ground.”
The film boasts a stunning cast with Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes playing the aforementioned Edith and Basil. Their story is also accompanied by the likes of Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ken Stott, Ben Chaplin, and Monica Dolan, who form the families and group of excavators surrounding the protagonists.
Throughout the film, the characters form such unlikely and yet warm alliances with one another which are evidently so valuable not only to the work they are doing but for their own survival and happiness as they live through and endure the opening of the Second World War.
What is most moving and yet most rare in this film is the friendship between Edith and Basil that endures throughout the entire film, without falling into the typical trope of friends-to-lovers. To me, this made their connection more enduring and more valuable as they were two people from different classes, different realms of society, and different backgrounds who found friendship in history.
Studying History as a degree can sometimes starve the subject of enjoyment, instead restructuring it as an effort-equals-result experience. This film reminded me of why I love History in the first place – learning, finding, excitement and connection – all emotions that the characters discover and undergo during The Dig.
Credit also has to be given to the director, Simon Stone, who managed to take a beautiful story and fill it with such talent and beauty. The film has a clear aesthetic and is visually stunning to watch as the focus is predominantly on the countryside of Surrey and Suffolk with the colour palette of toned creams and browns throughout the film offering something of a calming effect on the audience.
There are several historical inaccuracies in the film, such as the casting of Mulligan as Edith Pretty who, according to John Preston’s book of the same name, was 56 when the excavation was underway – 31 years older than Carey Mulligan.
Additionally, the whirlwind romance between excavator, Peggy Piggott and Edith’s cousin, Rory Lomax, is fictional, indeed even Lomax’s existence is fictional. An RAF pilot and photographer, Lomax fills the role of the two real-life photographers at the site (Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff), as well as being a symbol of the thousands of British servicemen preparing to go to war in the summer of 1939. But these inaccuracies pale in comparison to the overall beauty and story of the film, which instead adds value to the film.
In a film defined by understatement, it’s the little details that matter.