Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Movie with Abe: The Dig

The Dig
Directed by Simon Stone
Released January 29, 2021 (Netflix)

Not everyone views history in the same way. There are those who devote their lives to studying what came before and how that influences the present, while others look only to the future and what they can accomplish. The preservation of notable discoveries and artifacts is typically seen as a collective effort for the benefit of society and humanity at large, but that doesn’t stop some from trying to take all the credit and feeling as if they are somehow more entitled to ownership over major breakthroughs and finds.

A wealthy widow, Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), enlists the services of archeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate part of her vast property on the eve of World War II. Initially uninterested in the job, Mr. Brown soon discovers that the burial mounds may be much older than he ever expected. As he continues, his work draws the interest of powerful parties who seek to take responsibility and stewardship of this monumental project. Despite her declining health, Edith remains committed to and entirely faithful in the services of Mr. Brown, who consistently defers to the authority of the woman who is actually his employer.

This film is as much about the significance of what it is that Mr. Brown has been tasked to do – and the weight of what he doesn’t entirely know he will find – as it is about the people involved in it. Edith has been made to feel by some that she is no longer relevant, but she knows that the money she has and the land she owns makes it necessary for powerful people to at least defer to her even if they don’t quite respect her. Mr. Brown, who is married, believes in the sanctity of his profession and his ability to understand what he is doing, even if those watching him or attempting to control his actions indicate considerably less reverence for it.

Mulligan and Fiennes are both terrific actors who have delivered a range of memorable performances in the past. This is hardly their most enthralling work, with both portraying muted, introspective characters whose facial expressions are often more informative than the words they speak. Supporting turns from Lily James and Johnny Flynn are more memorable and emphatic. What is most compelling is the excavation that is depicted, now famous as Sutton Hoo, and the way in which Edith, Mr. Brown, and the rest of the characters treat this work. The cinematography and music assist a film that isn’t quite as gripping in presentation as its events are significant.


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