Movie Review: Netflix’s ‘The Dig’ is a gift

Carey Mulligan in “The Dig” (Larry Horricks/Netflix)

As we search for normalcy to get us through winter and the remainder of this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, streaming services have become a major part of many people’s lives.

Many studios are moving forward with “theatrical” releases at home as everyone adapts.
In an effort to contribute to that normalcy, Valley Sentinel will endeavor to include reviews of trending, classic or otherwise interesting pieces of art or media to inspire. Feel free to send along your contributions.

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Looking for an engaging, feel-good movie as you weather the pandemic? “The Dig” (directed by Simon Stone, 2021) is the true story of Mrs. Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), who hires Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), a local, self-taught archaeologist to explore the burial mounds on her estate.

The story takes place about 100 miles northeast of London, in Suffolk, England. It’s 1939 and World War II is starting to unfold for the Brits. The movie highlights social class distinctions in the United Kingdom that were more prevalent than today. Brown has no formal education past age twelve and is a working-class man of limited means. A highly skilled archaeologist and astronomer, the humble Brown refers to himself as “an excavator.”

While the thoughtful and wise Mrs. Pretty comes from money, she has more in common with Mr. Brown than Charles Phillips (Ken Stott), the snooty archaeologist from the British Museum who takes a leadership role in the project. When the pretentious Philips says Brown is unqualified for a task, Mrs. Pretty responds, “Now that’s just snobbery isn’t it Mr. Phillips.” Brown is an underdog, and I like rooting for these types of characters.

Mrs. Pretty’s nine-year old son Robert (Archie Barnes) forms a bond with Mr. Brown as he introduces the boy to astronomy. Barnes is perfectly cast for the role of Robert and I expect we’ll see more of him in the future.

The real-life Basil Brown was an autodidact known to have taught himself Latin, French, and a number of other languages. He had articles published in respected astronomy magazines and wrote a well-regarded book on the subject. With his passion for archeology, Brown was indeed a Renaissance man.

Lily James of Downton Abbey, Baby Driver, and Yesterday fame plays Peggy Piggott, the love-starved wife of an archaeologist who helps out the project. Her storyline adds dimension to the film and some poignant moments.

The Dig has all the hallmarks of an outstanding movie. There are inspiring characters, love, loss, war, history and triumph. The film never drags, and the plot advances the narrative quite nicely.
This is a different role for Ralph Fiennes, who is brilliant in his portrayal of Basil Brown. Fiennes usually plays more highbrow characters like Count Almasy in The English Patient and Monsieur Gustave, the clever concierge in The Grand Budapest Hotel. He is hardly recognizable as a dirt covered archaeological excavator and is sure to be recognized for his fine work in The Dig.
5/5 stars.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

—Bill Gordon, Contributor

Editor’s Note: When searching for this film on Netflix, you may need to enter the name as, “The D I G” with a space after D and I. The contributor’s rating for the film has been updated online.

Further Reading: The Midwest is home to many burial mounds

In this week’s edition of the Valley Sentinel, Bill Gordon reviews The Dig (Netflix). The film is centered-around an archaeological excavation at a small group of Anglo-Saxon burial mounds in Suffolk, England.

The Midwest is home to thousands of burial mounds. Referred to as Native American Effigy Mounds, they were built during the Late Woodland Period (1400-750 B.C.) by Native Americans known today as the Effigy Moundbuilders. Mounds in the shapes of birds, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtle, panther or water spirit are the most common and are considered sacred spaces by many Americans. Much like the mounds in The Dig, their excavation has been fraught with controversy.

Effigy Mounds in our area extend from Dubuque, Iowa north into southeast Minnesota, across southern Wisconsin from the Mississippi to Lake Michigan, and along the Wisconsin-Illinois boundary. Wisconsin was once estimated to have 15,000 to 20,000 effigy mounds, but now fewer than 4,000 remain.

For more information about Effigy Mounds of Southern Wisconsin, visit .

—Alison Graves, Contributor