Its opening sequence, which sees amateur excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) arrive at Edith Pretty’s (Carey Mulligan) farm at Sutton Hoo, is immediately disarming: the fluid camerawork, the antsy editing, the overwhelmingly enormous Suffolk skies. It instantly put me in mind of Terrence Malick, his film Days of Heaven (1978) in particular.
It's unexpected. So for all that these beats are familiar – Fiennes’ underdog battling corporate forces who want to claim credit for his discovery; Mulligan’s widow trying to juggle illness and motherhood – the acting is so good, Mike Eley’s cinematography so spectacular and Stefan Gregory’s score so mellifluous that you don’t really notice. And although the film takes place in the summer of 1939, on the eve of war, the film wears its period detail commendably lightly and does not overdo it on the impending doom.
The look of The Dig only kept me engaged so long, however. About halfway through, a romance is shoehorned in between a hunky airman (Johnny Flynn) and a put-upon archaeologist (Lily James) that really jars, and for a time the film seems to completely forget about Basil and Edith in favour of these hot young things. It’s a shame, and the film never really recovers from it. One particular scene, in which Mr Flynn runs very quickly in a very tight shirt, is almost laughably bad.
Still, my abiding memory of The Dig is a good one. It really does capture the excitement of archaeological discovery well and the warm glow of the Suffolk sunshine is understandably appealing at the moment. Plus, it ends on a great final shot.
Featured images credit: IMDb