“The Dig” (PG) *** and a half
THE new year is firmly planted in history and people might be forgiven for wondering what it will bring.
That, dear readers, is a statement of the bleeding obvious by a movie reviewer who’s wondering what the new year will bring to the big screen.
It begins with “The Dig”, filmed around the place in the south of England where in 1938 a story that began more than a millennium ago, rose from the grave. Edith Pretty, the widow of a battalion commander in the Suffolk Regiment, lived on an estate at Sutton Hoo where there was a small number of barrows.
What’s a barrow, did somebody ask? It’s archaeology-speak for a burial mound, usually of somebody important, for example, a king.
From people whose families had lived in the area for many years, decades, centuries even, Edith (a lovely portrayal by actress Carey Mulligan of a disabled woman with a strong sense of public responsibility) had learned various tales about barrows and their contents. And she engaged local self-taught archaeologist and astronomer Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to lead a group of men to excavate one of the largest.
From 1934 to 1939, Basil was co-leader of a team excavating the site of a Roman Villa. And during this dig, Guy Maynard (Peter McDonald), curator of the Ipswich Museum, asked him to report to Edith with a view to excavating mounds on her land. The rest of that story has been told many times! This latest version seeks to give an accurate reflection of what happened, how, and with what result.
Basil and his team unearthed a complete buried ship.
And visitors to the British Museum today can see its contents.
Which didn’t get there without a measure of friction between Edith and Basil and Charles Phillips (Ken Stott), who has gone down in mainstream archaeological history as leader of the 1939 excavation of the Sutton Hoo burial ship, an intact collection of Anglo-Saxon grave-goods, possibly that of the 7th-century East Anglian king Raedwald.
Australian director Simon Stone’s filming of Moira Buffini’s screenplay, based on a novel by John Preston, seeks to set the record of that achievement straight. A series of titles in the closing credits explains why and how.
“The Dig” is a very pleasant little movie that tells an important story. I liked it.