MOVIE "The Dig"
WHERE Streaming Friday on Netflix.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes star in "The Dig," a drama about the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship medieval burial site in Suffolk, England, commencing in 1939 as war looms just over the horizon.
Mulligan plays Edith Pretty, who owns the land under which the artifacts from the 6th to 7th centuries have been buried, and Fiennes is Basil Brown, the local archaeologist she hires to explore beneath the mounds and see what he can find.
The movie, streaming on Netflix beginning Friday and showing in limited theatrical release, is directed by Simon Stone and adapted by Moira Buffini from the 2007 novel by John Preston. It co-stars Lily James, Ben Chaplin and Johnny Flynn, among other notables.
MY SAY "The Dig" tells the story of a major historical discovery set against the dawning of epochal change, with the specter of the imminent Second World War shaping its every moment.
Silhouetted against the sprawling open fields of England's east coast, captured in wide angles set under expansive foreboding storm clouds and amid the last vestiges of daylight, the movie becomes less invested in the work of these archaeologists and researchers and more inclined toward bigger questions about the nature of history and how we comprehend it.
"If a thousand years were to pass in an instance, what would be left of us," one character wonders, bestowed with an understanding of what is soon to come that cannot be articulated, but resounds throughout this movie.
In its pervasive quiet, in the sadness baked into the performances by Mulligan, Fiennes and the rest of the ensemble, in the sounds of RAF planes zooming overhead, the movie offers a poignant rumination on life at the cusp of fundamental transformation.
There are dramatic sequences, including two harrowing rescues, but "The Dig" mostly consists of the characters working at the site, reflecting on their find and gazing off into the distance and up toward the heavens.
That might not sound riveting, but there's a timeless, ethereal quality to the picture that envelops the audience in a very specific mood. It is set on a precipice of death, both in terms of the war that is soon to come and in the details of Edith's own life, as she suffers from a debilitating illness.
It is like watching a time capsule in motion, with the events at hand irrevocably shaped by our understanding of what's to come. We know that things will never be the same again, sooner than they can possibly know.
The movie offers some hope and promise for weathering the impending storm of personal and global events in the form of the friendship that Mulligan and Fiennes build between their two characters, and in the touching bond that develops between Basil and Edith's son Robert (Archie Barnes).
These connections sustain them as they confront the inexorable reality that everything they have known will soon pass into the annals of history. And when it's at its best, "The Dig" ties these characters directly into the world they have uncovered in the rolling landscape of coastal Britain.
We are watching a moment that will quickly be as obliterated by the march of time and the swirling tides of world events as the long-ago Anglo-Saxon culture buried under the earth.
BOTTOM LINE "The Dig" is an affecting rumination on the ways in which history intertwines with and shapes the present, with excellent performances by Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes.