Hello everyone and welcome back to another Movie Monday.
Today I am going to be talking about the movie The Dig. The movie has been available for streaming on Netflix since January 2021. It was directed by Simon Stone and it is based on the 2007 book The Dig, written by John Preston.
The movie tells the tale of the excavation of Sutton Hoo in 1939. Edith Pretty hires Basil Brown to take care of the burial mounds in the grounds of her rural estate. Brown is local and self-taught and because he left school at a young age, he is dismissed when he says the mounds could be Anglo-Saxon.
As Brown works, he bonds with Edith and her son and begins to ignore letters from his wife. One day he uncovers iron rivets from a ship, suggesting that the burial sight is of someone of great importance such as a King. The news spreads fast and when Charles Phillips, an archaeologist from Cambridge arrives, he declares the site one of National importance and he takes over the dig.
Characters & Structure.
When I was watching this movie, I felt as though the introduction of different characters and the way the movie is structured went hand in hand so that is why I am going to talk about the characters and the structure together in the same section.
I would describe the structure as a structure of two phases. Phase one being the discovery and phase two being the descent. Let me explain.
The initial phase of the dig is very exciting. It is filled with discovery and anticipation, dreams and passion. Basil Brown is a humble man. He is working-class. He does not have a formal education, he learned everything he knows from his father, who learned from his father before him and I think that he has an underdog quality that is really easy to root for. It is frustrating when he is scoffed at or dismissed simply because he lacks a formal education. He has hands on experience. He is doing the work. He believed in this dig when no one else did and the dynamic he has with Edith is lovely to watch.
Edith is a character that I really rooted for because in my opinion her story is a sad one of squashed potential and bad timing. Edith has always been interested in archaeology and she even got accepted into university but instead she had to take care of her sick father. She lived her whole life putting her passions on hold, now she is widowed, and not well herself but she has got a feeling about those burial mounds. She believes there is something down there, she has a gut feeling and after all this time I wanted her to be right. I was hopeful for her because she deserves to have this moment after waiting a lifetime for it.
The second phase of the movie, which I have called the descent, is when the rest of the characters arrive, descending on the dig, and all wanting a piece of the action and more importantly, the credit.
Charles Phillips is a famous archaeologist from Cambridge and he quickly declares the site to be too important to be handled by the self-taught Brown, and he takes over the dig with his own team, who brings with them problems of their own.
His team consists of Stuart and his wife Peggy, she is a budding archaeologist who feels emotionally detached from her husband. When they arrive, Peggy meets Edith’s cousin Rory who is taking photographs of the dig. He is kind, gentle and charming and he makes her feel things she has never felt in her marriage.
While the arrival of these new characters does detract from Basil and Edith, who I did miss when they were off-screen, I did feel that the choice to introduce these new characters midway through was a clever one because it allows audiences to almost experience things exactly how Basil and Edith did. Here they are, working, digging, sharing passions and believing in this dig while all of the ‘experts’ laughed at them, and now suddenly all of these experts are arriving, and taking over and they feel they are more important and they have more knowledge and their problems are more important so even though the romantic subplot between Peggy and Rory does lack substance compared to the dynamic that was building between Basil and Edith, it does make sense that the movie would focus on them for a while because this new team has descended on the dig and they all believe they are the most important players in the game and as a viewer and as a fan of movies, I liked this a lot because I felt that this structure matched the events that were being portrayed. The dig was taken over by this new team halfway through, as was the plot and I thought that was cleverly structured.
There are many themes explored in this movie. Passion, discovery, class differences, love, loss, and of course the past haunting the present.
The dig itself is the heart of the plot. The dig is what is most important, the dig is what is fuelling all of the other ideas that are explored. Simon Stone is a detail orientated director in this movie. The movie does explain how a dig must proceed, how dangerous a dig can be, how exciting, and it does so in a way that is easy to understand so even though I have never studied archaeology, I felt I understood the process and I enjoyed watching it play out. Another thing to remember is as this dig is happening, war is approaching. The movie signals this by having RAF planes fly overhead more and more frequently as time passes and this creates a real sense of urgency because if war breaks out, the dig must cease, ceasing with it all the discoveries that will be found deep down in the earth.
This dig is physical and it is metaphorical as while the characters are physically digging into the ground, they are also digging into the past and digging into themselves, learning about who and what came before them, and learning about themselves too. There is a sense of community despite the class differences, and despite the other issues that are happening, everyone wants to dig, everyone wants to discover what is down in the earth because doing so will open up a new world of knowledge and understanding about the past.
Overall I really enjoyed watching The Dig. Although some historical accuracy was left out, and some details were added for a more cinematic script (which happens in movies very often), as someone who has always enjoyed history, I really did enjoy this movie. I like any stories that involve looking back at the past and discovering something and this dig was both physically and personally rewarding for the characters. The characters were intriguing, the passion, and expertise they exhibited felt believable and the story was told gracefully and simply but the feelings of triumph and discovery were really satisfying to watch. Nothing was overdone and yet you could really feel how significant this event was.
So this has been my Movie Monday. I hope you enjoyed it. Have you seen The Dig? What did you think? Let me know because I love hearing your thoughts.