The Dig Review: A dredge of dull and unremarkable discovery
Once being told in a LucasArts video game and John Preston’s 2007 novel of the same name, director Simon Stone takes his own stab at reimagining the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo with The Dig.
The film takes viewers into an England in the midst of World War II as a local, self-taught excavator named Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) discovers a large ship buried under the land of a woman named Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan). The news of Brown’s discovery catches the eye of Cambridge archaeologist Charles Phillips (Ken Stott), who calls in a young archaeologist named Peggy Piggott (Lily James) to overtake Brown’s site, and a battle for the importance of discovery ensues.
First of all, there’s some big props that need to go to the technical aspects of The Dig since it’s plays a pivotal role in its greatest elements. Stone’s camera direction and the cinematography from Mike Eley create these wide shots of the dig site and the area as a whole that are absolutely gorgeous. However, it’s really the editing and score that work together to amplify the film’s views on discovery that really connect to the film. The editing cuts at a furious pace as the characters are on the verge of discovery while the score builds and rises to a momentous peak as they brush the dust off of a piece of the ship that ties things together. It’s a perfect combination that fantasizes that sense of discovery that’s filled throughout this film. It’s one of the easiest elements to connect to in the film as it has a genuine heart and makes you care about Brown’s sense of excitement since it’s really like a local underdog trying to retain his integrity.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the film has going for it since the rest of it is just kind of a bore. Once you get past the technical elements and that heartwarming sense of discovery, there’s just not a whole lot to connect to. It’s easy to get initially lost in all the archaeology and historical jargon, the whole historical aspect of the burial site isn’t that interesting, and the incredibly slow pace makes it hard to stay attached to what is happening. Even the good performances all around from the star-studded, talented cast can’t really regain much interest and the film tries to implement more personal, character-driven elements that just aren’t that interesting. The troubled relationship of Peggy and her husband Stuart (Ben Chaplin) becomes tiresome real fast and the aim of the film never comes off clear, so it just becomes hard to stay connected to the film’s story.
Even worse is that the film prioritizes dramatization over accuracy with its depictions of these real-life people and it leads to nothing special. From changing the age and attitudes of many of the people to the exclusion of other female photographers, there’s a lot here that would make those looking for a historically accurate view of this event pretty upset – especially when it comes to Peggy. Rather than be the experienced and respected archeologist she was at the time of the Sutton Hoo excavation, she’s portrayed as young inexperienced klutz who’s only brought onto the sight because of Stuart’s experience and her light weight. The change only exists to make her fit into the film’s overly familiar arc for her and help the troubled relationship plotline that, like I said before, becomes tiresome to watch.
Try as they may, the strong technical aspects and genuinely touching moments of discovery can’t save The Dig from being a long-winded dredge of unremarkable and dull storytelling. It services as just another inaccurate adaptation of a real-life event that can’t live up to the potential intrigue it presents.