Digging up the past

Netflix’s ‘The Dig’ brings light to an interesting and historic archaeological dig

Ashley Pelletier, Associate Arts and Life Editor

Humans have always been interested in uncovering their roots, from the historic cave paintings at Lascaux in France to the tombs of pharaohs in Egypt. “The Dig” tells the lesser-known story about one of the biggest archaeological finds in British history, Sutton Hoo.


“The Dig” is based off of the 2007 John Preston novel of the same name. It was directed by Simon Stone and released on Netflix on Jan. 15.

Set at the eve of World War II, Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) is hired to excavate a set of burial mounds that supposedly date back to the Vikings. However, he discovers much more than he expected. He uncovers a burial ship from the sixth century, which is far older than the Vikings.

When more renowned archaeologists learn about the dig, they swarm Sutton Hoo, trying to steal the job from Brown. Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), who owns the land that Sutton Hoo is on, tries to ensure that Brown gets the recognition he deserves.

However, Pretty is dying with a heart defect. She tries to hide the truth from everyone, including her young son, Robert. Up until the end of her life, she fought for the recognition of Brown, but the end of the film revealed that her wishes were denied. Neither Pretty nor Brown received any recognition for the site until years after the Sutton Hoo exhibit opened at the British Museum.

I really enjoyed the cinematography of “The Dig.” The film was beautifully shot and lit. I noticed a majority of the sequences were filmed on handheld cameras, which gives a jolty feel. While that can be jarring at times, I liked the effect a lot.

A complaint that I have about the film is that the plot was a bit sporadic at times. Obviously, the main plot was the discovery and excavation of the archaeological site, but some of the subplots did not necessarily add anything to the film as a whole. This leads me to think that the movie would have been better off not including them.

One of these subplots in particular surrounded Peggy Piggott (Lily James). Piggott was Preston’s aunt, which led to her role in the dig being exaggerated, including a fictionalized, male love interest that took the place of the two women who made history by photographing the site. It is sad that the author and screenwriter felt the need to disclude these two female photographers in favor of a glorified romantic plot device.

I recommend watching “The Dig” if you have a passion for period pieces that take you back to another time. Everything about the movie feels like a time capsule. However, if you rely on a solid plot to take you through your watchtime, then it may not be the movie for you.

3/5 Stars