Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Carey Mulligan, Lily James
Director: Simon Stone
Running Time: 112 mins
The Dig is a British film about the true story of an excavator who is called to dig up a large burial mound in Suffolk, unearthing an incredible treasure on the eve of World War II.
An intriguing little piece of British history, The Dig tells a slow-burning story with understated and genuine drama throughout, turning what could have been a rather dry tale of archaeology into a genuinely gripping character drama. Its historical context takes a little while to become fully relevant, but ultimately, The Dig really proves itself as a captivating watch.
One of the things that I really liked about The Dig was its patience. Never dragging yet never rushing, the film takes its time to build up all of its main strengths, from its characters, their emotional back stories, and the overarching historical context of the outbreak of World War II.
Complete with elegant camerawork, a beautiful score and impressively atmospheric direction that makes it an eye-catching watch from the first few moments, The Dig has enough confidence and depth to keep you engrossed even if its story isn’t advancing apace, something that’s a lot harder to pull off than you may think.
One of the big reasons that the film’s patient pacing and style work so well is because of its understated, genuine drama. With calm yet fully convincing performances across the board, particularly from Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, this isn’t a showy period drama by any means, but eases you into a story about real people, making them the centre of attention far more than the historical significance of the event.
I’m not particularly well-versed in archaeology, and I didn’t know about this discovery before watching this film. I think that might be the case for many other people, but the great thing about The Dig is that it’s primarily a character-driven drama, and one that uses emotional intrigue to bring you closer to the story at hand and allow you to appreciate its importance.
One element where the film does seem to falter is in its use of the historical backdrop of the lead-up to World War II. Set in the summer months of 1939 before the outbreak of war, there are sporadic references to the coming conflict through the first two acts of the movie, but they don’t seem to bear much relevance to this story about an archaeological find.
However, the film slowly begins to unveil how the historical context plays into its characters’ personal lives and the fate of the dig itself, with dramatic focus shifting significantly in the final act, but just at the right point that the sudden arrival of the war into everyday life feels just like what it would have been like to experience it first-hand, taking over everything seemingly normal in an instant.
As a result, while the historical backdrop seems almost contrived at first, it really comes good as the film progresses, another demonstration of how the patience of The Dig really plays into its hands throughout. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9 overall.