Daniel Ketchelos — Staff Writer
Rarely does a Netflix Original film exceed expectations in both quality and storytelling. The Dig crafts together a captivating plot with beautiful cinematography and stylistic storytelling.
On the verge of WWII in 1939, an unorthodox archeologist is contracted by landowner Edith Pretty to uncover one of the most important discoveries of European history. The excavation of the Sutton Hoo site is the driving force behind The Dig.
The Dig is not a fast-paced film, and it is not meant to be. This is a film of patience and gentleness, much like the process that the archeologists undergo in the film to uncover the importance of the excavation site. The discovery of Sutton Hoo by Basil Brown completely rewrote the history of Britain during the dark ages. The Dig is a historical fiction piece that tells the story of the most important historical site for Anglo-Saxons.
Nominated for five British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, The Dig excels in storytelling. It makes heavy use of the idea “showing, not telling” and doesn’t spoon-feed information to the audience. Dialogue only reveals what is necessary, while the cinematography allows the key points of the story to unfold. Such dialogue is also well written, feeling natural rather than awkward or forceful when delivered by the actors.
The cinematography of The Dig is exceptional. This is not surprising since the director of photography is Mike Eley, a member of the esteemed British Society of Cinematographers. Initially, this film captures attention through the beautiful opening sequence showing Basil Brown grasping onto his bicycle as he rides a small wooden ferry boat across the river to Suffolk, England. This is one of many interesting compositions that Eley incorporates throughout the film.
Many establishing shots place the character in the lower third of the frame, which utilizes a vast sky as negative space, symbolizing the grand mystery of the universe that has yet to be uncovered. When characters are unsure of where to go or what to do next, Eley positions them with a large amount of negative space behind them and little room between the front of their face and the edge of the frame. This deliberate positioning portrays their feelings of being stuck. Overall, the cinematography in this film should be highly appreciated because of the narrative value it adds.
Acting is another strong element of The Dig. Key individuals include Ralph Fiennes (Basil Brown), Carey Mulligan (Edith Pretty), and Archie Barnes (Robert Pretty). Fiennes’s performance as Basil Brown felt natural and authentic. He portrayed Brown as someone highly skilled and passionate about his craft while remaining subtle in action.
There is an ample amount of subtext throughout this movie as well. Aspects of discovery, human relationships, and the frail nature of life are explored throughout the film. With the approach of the second world war on the heels of those working to uncover the past, the archeologists begin to realize through uncovering the story of the dead beneath their feet that life is fragile.
Overall, The Dig executes effective visual storytelling and remaining accurate to history while trusting that the audience will uncover the story. Beautiful cinematography and a well-written script serve the story of Basil Brown and Sutton Hoo well. This film is worth watching and should be appreciated for its nuanced style and story execution.