Director: Simon Stone
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, Ken Stott
Run Time: 112 mins
The Dig is a handsomely crafted biopic, with an earnest central performance from Ralph Fiennes, that chooses not to veer off the course of biopic convention. It explores the story of the excavation of the Great Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo in 1939, on the eve of World War II. The landowner, Edith Petty (Carey Mulligan) hires local, self-taught archaeologist / excavator Basil Brown for the task, who has largely been forgotten in history, who made the important discovery only to be shadowed by a Cambridge archaeologist who brings in a large group to dig the site up, by order of the Office of Works.
Ralph Fiennes makes for a likeable lead as the honest yet unconventional Basil Brown and Carey Mulligan is also charismatic as the landowner with a secret. The film is at its best in its first half when the film is mainly focussed on the duo, with the second half starting to overshadow them with the arrival of Ken Stott’s chief archaeologist and his crew. There is a touching subplot with how Fiennes interacts with Mulligan’s young son and the initial excavation and discovery of the Anglo-Saxon ship and artefacts. The second half is less focussed, and Lily James’ awkward inclusion in the film as a gifted archaeologist is reduced somewhat in another romantic subplot and it is less intimate in its character development of the central duo.
The Dig is a handsomely crafted biopic with a fascinating story and sympathetic performances but unlike its characters who take courageous risks, this is a film that refuses to deviate from convention. There is a growing host of biopics out there and although the story is gripping, the film itself is likely not to be particularly well remembered in years to come.