Archaeology is the part of history that smells, has substance, and has the ability to uncover ancient mysteries. I love archaeology, even the boring stuff.
The Dig is not boring. Slow paced, yes, as archaeology is a slow paced science. But not boring.
The scene is set in 1939 as Britain is preparing for war. A very humble man, amateur archaeologist and excavationist Basil Brown (Ralph Feines), is summoned by wealthy widow estate holder Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) to check out the earthen mounds that exist on her property in Suffolk. Mr. Brown is fairly certain the mounds are some sort of gravesite, probably already picked over, and Ms. Pretty is keen on having them dug up. They come to an agreement, after some negotiation, and Mr. Brown starts digging at a time when other archaeologists are closing their sites because of the coming war.
The film centers on the relationships Basil Brown has within the circle of people who either live on the property or come to dig with him. The first and major relationship he has is with Edith. Though definitely from two different class strata, their common interest in archaeology brings them together as equals. He becomes a surrogate father-figure to Edith’s son Robert. His other relationship is to the earth. He is digging. Someone is dying. He is digging. His wife appears out of nowhere. He is digging. The weather changes. He is digging. Edith’s son is jettisoning them off into outer space in imaginary space ships. It’s a vignette of life that centers around a dig.
Even when the museum directors show up and start arguing over who is more worthy to house the contents of the dig, Mr. Brown just keeps digging. Their arguments reach egotistical proportions.
The film is a study in human relationships, filled with all the emotions and landscape that Suffolk in wartime can muster.
It’s a lovely, beautiful film.
You can stream the film on Netflix.
Note: The artifacts found in this dig are in The British Museum and are known as “The Sutton Hoo Find”.
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