January 20th, 2021
MOVIE: THE DIG
STARRING: CAREY MULLIGAN, RALPH FIENNES, LILY JAMES, JOHNNY FLYNN
DIRECTED BY: SIMON STONE
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
With a cast of Carey Mulligan, Ralph Finnes, Lily James, and Johnny Flynn, I had high hopes for The Dig. The trailer alone had a golden look of a beautiful piece of history that you cherish. Sadly, it’s not that the cast in The Dig is bad, in fact everyone involved is game, and more. It’s just that this story is too old, too dry, and too bland to enjoy. It’s the story of Basil Brown (Finnes), an excavator of found artifacts, but often left out of the praise for what has been found. This is about a fascinating discovery of an Anglo Saxon boat deep beneath the land of a wealthy widow Edith Pretty and when she commissions Mr. Brown for the digging, the goal becomes keeping intact their discovery, without losing their find, and any lives. The Dig has all of the tools to be a well produced piece and sadly is something that should have been left deep in the ground.
From a technical aspect, The Dig looks beautiful, complete with gorgeous costumes, gorgeous people, and beautiful views of the English estate. The narrative side does not take long to get into, based on the John Preston novel and the screenplay adapted by Moira Buffini, quickly starts with Ms. Pretty (Carrie Mulligan) asking Mr. Brown if something could be hidden under a massive mound on the grounds. It looks out of place and the process of digging begins immediately. Doing the digging is fine, it’s Ms. Pretty’s land, but when the local museum head becomes involved, it becomes a matter of who should be doing the digging. On top of all that, WWII is on the cusp of breaking open, as bomber planes fly above. The Dig becomes a matter of red tape, fighting the elements, and beating the clock.
I hoped there would be enough drama to propel The Dig to be an early hit in 2021. Sadly the tone and pacing is all wrong. One factor is that the performances by Mulligan and Fiennes are their least inspired yet. Their characters have a dull depth to them. Mulligan’s Ms. Pretty is struggling with health issues, the responsibility of a single mother, a widow, and the pressure of donating what is discovered to the right people. Fiennes Mr. Brown is a quiet man, in love with his wife, passionate about his work, which keeps him literally, and figuratively buried in his findings. The subplot of the film is about Lily James as Peggy Piggott, a newlywed to husband Stuart (Ben Chaplin), but it becomes clear her husband prefers her friendship and companionship from other men. This pushes her into the arms of farmhand Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn) and it’s their hidden romance that becomes a more interesting focus than any other story.
The direction from Simon Stone (The Daughter) is not the problem either. The setting alone is a gorgeous victorian mansion, complete with elegant set designs, and beautiful sunsets in the horizons. It’s all of those visual delights that make The Dig so disappointing. I found the narrative to be incredibly boring and although the actors are all game, there’s not enough drama to turn this into a movie. From beginning to end, this felt like the perfect story to read in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, but never something to be portrayed in a movie.
There was plenty of mystery in the ground of The Dig but when we look beneath the surface it’s just not enough. It’s an example of Carey Mulligan’s versatility as an actor after her groundbreaking work in Promising Young Woman and the narrative still keeps her character behind the scenes. It overall feels like a missed opportunity for a fantastic cast and maybe telling the story of an archaeological dig is not easy to transfer onto the big screen. Either way, The Dig is a dusty old fossil.
THE DIG IS AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX JANUARY 29TH
Written by: Leo Brady