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Film Review: “The Dig” Only Uncovers the Surface of a Truly Fascinating Story

Written by: Patrick Howard | January 27th, 2021

Film poster: “The Dig”

The Dig (Simon Stone, 2021) 1½ out of 4 stars.

Simon Stone’s The Dig has been released at a time when humans continue to reflect on their mortality. Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) plays a wealthy British widow who hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown, played by Ralph Fiennes (Coup 53), to excavate the mysterious burial mounds on her property. Mulligan and Fiennes quickly discover that their findings, buried for a thousand years, could redefine scholars’ understanding of ancient Britain.

The Dig tells the real-life story of a humbling discovery that shifted a country’s comprehension of its history with a dispassionate, underwritten script. The cast is chock-full of more than capable actors like Mulligan and Fiennes, but the script, by Moira Buffini (Jane Eyre), never strikes the right balance of subtlety in the character intrigue and drama that lied in the historical events in Suffolk, England. When the interactions between Mulligan and Fiennes, and then the two of them against the snobbish academics from the British museum, peter out, the film fills its third act with a surprise romance that never finds the justification to exist.

l-r: Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes in THE DIG. Cr. Larry Horricks ©Netflix

This romance between two supporting characters, played by Lily James (Rebecca) and Johnny Flynn (Emma.), starts close to an hour into the film’s running time. It’s quite astonishing. There is some connection in the theme of living your life to the fullest degree and this blossoming affair, but we barely have time understand these two characters and their respective motivations before their relationship hits us with a hollow blow.

I would be interested in learning about the scripting process of The Dig. One would think the excavation itself and the ensuing drama of the right people receiving proper credit, sticking it to the higher-ups who wish to question your purpose, and the imagination that sparks from unearthing culture once thought to be lost would be enough to fill 90 pages. Someone, somewhere disagreed, and not to the film’s benefit.

l-r: Johnny Flynn and Lily James in THE DIG. Cr. Larry Horricks ©Netflix

Patrick Howard has been a cinephile since age seven. Alongside 10 years of experience in film analysis and criticism, he is a staunch supporter of all art forms and believes their influence and legacy over human culture is vital. Mr. Howard takes the time to write his own narrative stories when he can.

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