Complete A-Z list

Dig, The


Stars: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ken Stott, Ben Chaplin, Archie Barnes

Director: Simon Stone

An absorbing film about the finding of an anglo-Saxon burial ship beneath a mound in Sutton Hoo in 1939. The owner of the grounds, widow Edith Pretty (Mulligan), who is herself in poor health, is something of an amateur archaeologist by inclination, and, fascinated by the earthworks on her property, calls on the services of Basil Brown (Fiennes), whom she has heard is 'a difficult man', to supervise the dig.

Despite coming from opposite ends of the social scale, these two prove to be kindred spirits.

Brown calls himself an excavator, but his knowledge of his subject runs deep through a lifetime of experience, and both Edith and her young son (Barnes) take to him, and support his continuing role when exciting finds are made, and representatives of the British and Ipswich museums appear on the scene.

Fiennes and Mulligan are both sublime, and contrive to give a seemingly dry subject a powerful emotional spine that draws us both to subject and characters. The subtlety of these performances is a wonder to behold.

What's less successful is a somewhat extraneous (and fictitious) romantic subplot, presumably inserted to bolster box-office appeal, between married archaeologist Penny (James), whose husband (Chaplin) is one of the museum supervisors, and Edith's cousin Rory (Flynn), about to enlist in the RAF. This is signalled right from their first meeting, and then her husband is fortuitously called away...

These two are too prettily shallow for us to find any convincing meaning in their relationship, but this not so for the rest of the characters, all well drawn, with Barnes a refreshing presence as Edith's concerned son. It's nine-tenths of a tremendous British film that will please (and affect) a wide range of audiences. Netflix's best to date.

David Quinlan

UK 2021. UK Distributor: Netflix. Colour by Panalux.
112 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 27 Jan 2021