The Dig (2021)
January 30, 2021 11:57 AM - Subscribe

As WWII looms, a wealthy widow hires an amateur archaeologist to excavate the burial mounds on her estate. When they make a historic discovery, the echoes of Britain's past resonate in the face of its uncertain future.

Based on the true story; starring: Carey Mulligan Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Ben Chaplin, Johnny Flynn. Based on the novel by John Preston.
posted by I_Love_Bananas (20 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I enjoyed that this film transitioned into an ensemble piece mid-way through. I expected it to center on Brown and Pretty, but when Pigott entered with the rest of the team from the British Museum the focus expanded to include a larger, more interesting cast. I didn’t realize until the end that this was based on the specific real-life Sutton Hoo dig!
posted by migurski at 8:21 PM on January 30, 2021

I could've sworn that there was a twentieth-century National Geographic magazine cover with that photo of the Sutton Hoo helmet from the first OP link, but my googles find nothing. I did end up at this article, though:
Why this famed Anglo-Saxon ship burial was likely the last of its kind
The archaeological discovery at Sutton Hoo—a sensation depicted in the film 'The Dig'—is perhaps the last gasp of a lavish English medieval funerary tradition.
Is the film really just in theaters, like the IMDB link says? If so, that's a shame in COVID times.
posted by XMLicious at 1:58 AM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

> Is the film really just in theaters, like the IMDB link says? If so, that's a shame in COVID times.

I just watched it on Netflix last night.
posted by victorstanciu at 3:12 AM on January 31, 2021 [5 favorites]

Just out on Netflix!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:35 AM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed that this film transitioned into an ensemble piece mid-way through.

I thought the opposite - it had a great start concentrating on Fiennes and Mulligans nuanced and lovely performances then it all became a bit of a mess when it pivoted to the cliche golden hour forbidden romance between the young hot actors. The scene where Fiennes is buried and brought back was astonishing and nothing really matches it afterwards.

Plus the photographers in real life were local women who documented the find in great detail, bit of a wrong turn replacing them with Johnny Flynn just to shoehorn in said romance.
posted by brilliantmistake at 4:36 AM on January 31, 2021 [6 favorites]

The scene where Fiennes is buried and brought back was astonishing and nothing really matches it afterwards.

Yes! I re-watched that visual multiple times. Gorgeous framing, next-level. Agree that the story devolved in the second half. The truth was amazing enough. Peggy's story could have gone in many directions without sacrificing truth. To have it reduce her to a faux-romantic sideline in that manner was just unfortunate.

See also: Netflix: 'The Dig' Accused of Sexism Due to Lily James' Character
"On the whole she is presented as deferential, even bumbling, putting her foot through a hollow feature [in the excavation]," Wragg Sykes describes. Though, she claims that's not who the famous woman was in real life. In fact, she says Piggott was highly experienced. The film is based on the historical fiction novel about the dig written by Piggott's uncle [novel author] John Preston. He claims that allegations that the young wife was "bumbling" are untrue. "She was 27 when she did the dig in real life so to suggest that she was a grizzled professional is pushing it a bit," he says."
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:49 AM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

More backstory:
- The Dig - Historical Accuracy Comparison
- The Life of Edith Pretty
- Sutton Hoo (Wikipedia)
-The National Trust: Sutton Hoo
- British Museum: Sutton Hoo Treasures
- Podcast: The Story of Sutton Hoo
- Mental Floss: 12 Facts about Sutton Hoo
- Did Basil Brown Really Not Get Credit for the Sutton Hoo Treasure?
- AD 700 Sutton Hoo

"Because no physical body was discovered in the ship burial, historians debated who could have been entombed in such a rich and impressive fashion. The leading theory, based on the 8th-century writings of the Venerable Bede, is that it was King Rædwald of East Anglia."

"British courts ruled that all the treasure belonged to Edith Pretty. She refused to sell the items, and instead donated the entire collection to the British Museum so it could be enjoyed by everyone. This extraordinary generosity was recognized by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who wanted to honor her as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), which the ever-modest Pretty politely declined. Because she donated the treasure during World War II, instead of going directly on display the items were packed up and hidden in an unused section of London’s underground to protect them from bombing raids."
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:04 AM on January 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

Niche, I know, but as someone from that part of the world I really appreciate the use of actual Suffolk accents. More usually actors in tv and films set in eastern England use standard “rural yokel” accents, keyed to a West Country burr.

Maybe it is something to do with Ralph Fiennes being from Ipswich; I hope against hope that’s actually his own, natural voice and he starts using it in Bond films.
posted by bebrogued at 6:51 AM on January 31, 2021 [4 favorites]

I wanted to like this! It has a great cast! It is remarkably beautiful! I like period pieces and the story seemed interesting to me.

But it felt like the wasn't really anything at stake, no matter how much the film tried to force it. It felt so much longer than it needed to. I don't feel like anything of real consequence happened -- I wanted to feel excited by the discoveries but I don't feel like the movie really emphasized them enough.

I feel like it never quite decided what it was trying to say about these events or these people.

Maybe the book is better?
posted by edencosmic at 1:23 PM on January 31, 2021 [3 favorites]

My favorite part was annoying bureaucrat vs private citizen.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:16 PM on January 31, 2021

I thought it was amusing that Peggy Piggott's nephew wrote the book on which the movie is based -- did he really include some light adultery on his aunt's part?

Piggott's Wikipedia page indicates that she stayed married to Stuart well into the 1950s, so it's unclear to me whether there's any truth at all in the romance element.

I enjoyed the movie, but I would have appreciated an explanation somewhere that the results of the inquest determined who owned the hoard: if it was abandoned property it went to the Crown, if it was intentionally buried it went to the landowner. Which is why there was so much press interest in the inquest, in that one scene where Pretty gets chased into the car.
posted by suelac at 6:11 PM on January 31, 2021

I really loved this film. Gorgeously shot and very well performed, i think it managed to convey the true excitement of an archaeological dig. The reaction of everyone to thefinding of the hoard really helped bring to life for me something ivw taken for granted; ive viewed various discoveries like this at museums in the past, but never really thought about the way it must have felt to uncover them.

I am not super bothered about accuracy when it comes to films, as they are not designed to be a documentary but a story told using history. That said, while i enjoyed the performance, i feel like ive seen the "my husband is gay" historical story one too many times, im not convinced it was needed.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:41 PM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

but I would have appreciated an explanation somewhere that the results of the inquest determined who owned the hoard: if it was abandoned property it went to the Crown, if it was intentionally buried it went to the landowner. Which is why there was so much press interest in the inquest, in that one scene where Pretty gets chased into the car.

yeah that bit depended too much on external knowledge, and the editing that jumped around chronologically at that particular section didn't help either. thanks to all the links in this post, i got it, but it was a real head scratcher, especially as I couldn't detect why Edith was so upset she had to apologise to Brown.
posted by cendawanita at 1:38 AM on February 1, 2021

That was a great video Martha MDP- thanks for posting!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 1:31 PM on February 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

That accent coach is great, but I wish he had taught Ralph Fiennes to say "Would that it were so simple" in a Suffolk accent.

As for the movie as a whole, I felt like it was narratively a little lost. Part of it is that I have a semi-irrational dislike of Lily James -- she is all over period films these days, and she always plays Lily James -- and her "is my husband gay" subplot was a cliche, not to mention a pretty disturbing and fundamentally homophobic tendency to view any sign of male friendship as sexual.

But I also thought Carey Mulligan, who I usually like, was miscast (she's 35! playing a 50-something! and had nothing to do for most of the film!) and Ken Stott was buffoonishly pompous. Ralph Fiennes was acting circles around all of them.

Also, the costumes and hair, for the women at least, was all over the place. If it wasn't for the planes overhead every 30 seconds and the visual anvil of "THERE'S A WAR COMING LET'S SANDBAG ALL THE STATUES" I would have no idea it was set in 1939. I would have liked more of the relationship between Basil Brown as mentor to Robert Pretty.

It started out so strong -- the scene where he is buried alive and rescued was incredible -- and then fizzled out hard once the rest of the cast showed up; I spent most of the second half playing games on my phone.
posted by basalganglia at 5:26 AM on February 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

YouTube recommended this documentary to me - by the looks of it it comes from the early 80s (Chronicle?), but it's got all the details in it, and much earlier interviews with the main characters, including Basil Brown, Margaret Guido and Charles Phillips.
posted by Grangousier at 4:29 PM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I watched "The Dig" last night on Netflix. Anything with Ralph Fiennes will draw my interest. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It's not bad. But it could have been better.

I liked the beginning with just Brown and the Pretty household. That would have been an interesting enough movie on its own. But then additional characters characters are introduced and "The Dig" becomes a different movie for awhile. Don't get me wrong, the Stuart-Peggy-Rory love triangle was interesting. And I am fast becoming a fan of Lily James after having watched "The Dig" and "The Exception" recently. But that's not the movie I was watching ten minutes before! Fortunately, things come together nicely and plots are tied up for everyone by the end.

There are a lot of excellent actors and acting in "The Dig." But I was most impressed with Lily James. Besides Edith, Peggy has the biggest character arc in the movie. And she has so many nice moments on that arc. I was blown away by the final scene between her and Stuart. Along with the excellent acting, "The Dig" is a beautiful film. When Brown is sitting by the water and waves at the sailboat, I was thinking, "England!" Finally, the build-up to World War II was very very very well done.

What diminishes "The Dig" is that it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. It starts out as as an understated, somewhat depressing, but wholy engrossing Merchant-Ivoryesque period movie, a tone that lingers to the end. New characters and their dramas are added, and the movie becomes something else. And all of this is set against the backdrop of Britain heading into World War II a la "The King's Speech." Each time "The Dig" shifted gears, I was a little jarred. "Silver Linings Playbook" comes to mind as a movie that has a similar formula, but executed it far better.
posted by Stuka at 10:27 AM on February 15, 2021

just watched this last night. I had been planning to watch and definitely interested but I didn't when I realized 'hey, is this Sutton Hoo?' I was SOOOOO excited and had to pause it so I could tell my husband what Sutton Hoo is and show him pics of the artefacts and explain what an extraordinary find it was. so excite!! (I'm sure its not 100% historically accurate but as an archaeology nerd I really enjoyed it)
posted by supermedusa at 9:37 AM on February 17, 2021

We finally got around to watching this last night. Carey Mulligan is always a big draw. Fiennes was very comfortable in his role. Overall, it was an enjoyable enough watch, if for no other reason than to watch two great actors (Mulligan and Fiennes) fully inhabit and bring life to what are pretty quiet lead roles.

As others have pointed-out, there are a few odd bits...

The “Lily James has a gay husband” subplot just seemed grafted on and served no real purpose that I could discern, other than to cast a gay character in an unflattering light.

As was also mentioned, the post-inquisition scene was really confusing. I kind of eventually assumed that’s what it was, but was thrown off by this sleepy little hamlet suddenly filled with a madhouse of people, reporters, cops, etc. Note, too, they pulled the old “you think it’s bad news until surprise it isn’t” trope, which was a little cheap.

I wish they had shown more of the treasures unearthed.

The plane crash in the river was also a bit odd to me. I think it stood to show Lily James’ eventual love interest as a strapping, heroic “real man”? Either way, it just seemed like another grafted-on scene.

In some ways, these odd bits feel like the producers felt the story was too small to fill the movie time, so they added some extra stuff to pad it out. The one thing I wish they had padded things out with would have been a contemporary update on the find. A view of the treasure on display, for instance. And, what about the ship itself? Was it ever fully unearthed?

All that said, it’s a fine little story, and well worth a couple of hours on a quiet Saturday night.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:13 AM on May 9, 2021

« Older Pixar Popcorn: Full Season 1...   |  Saturday Night Live: John Kras... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments