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Thread: THE DIG (Simon Stone 2021)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE DIG (Simon Stone 2021)



    Quiet revelations with deep resonance

    It may be 2021 not 2020, but I want to put in a plug for Simon Stone's Netflix produced and featured film THE DIG, which I just saw and loved (on Netflix).

    Subtle, old fashioned British filmmaking in every way: so much class and richness in the sense of period (1938-39). This film is about the extraordinary discovery in Suffolk, at the brink of the outbreak of World War II, on the property of a posh widow called Edith Pretty, of the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon burial ground. It altered the whole understanding of those people and that period (early 7th century). Starring - but not really "starring," because as in the great days of fifties English cinema there are no stars and everyone is good, Carey Mulligan as Mrs Pretty, and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown, who did the first, essential digging and finding. Interesting to see Carey Mulligan feeling so pitch-perfect as this period Englishwoman, and compare it to the now awards-mentioned role in the flasher Promising Young Woman, where she doesn't look quite right, and which is so loud and crude. I wonder if others will notice this contrast, and how much better she is when she doesn't have to look "hot" and talk with a neutral American accent.

    It's great fun seeing how the inventive screenwriter Moira Buffini, working from the eponymous book by John Preston (which I want to read), adds romances and intrigues and charms to embroider the basic story of events for fiction/film. It's all done tastefully, so it remains understated and works, or so I felt as I followed the quiet progress of vents - Edith's young son Robert's touching bonding with the kind, resilient Mr Brown; Peggy Piggott's detour from her new dud husband toward the (invented) cousin of Mrs Pretty, the dashing Rory Lomax, an enthusiastic photographer recording Peggy and the discoveries, destined soon for the RAF. Quite a few quotable lines here exploring how the science of exploring human past evokes thoughts of timelessness. These from IMDb:
    Basil Brown: Robert, we all fail. Every day. There are some things we just can't succeed at no matter how hard we try. I know it's not what you want to hear.
    Edith Pretty: I'm so sorry.
    Basil Brown: I thought you'd be pleased with the verdict.
    Edith Pretty: We die. We die and we decay. We don't live on.
    Basil Brown: I'm not sure I agree. From the first human handprint on a cave wall, we're part of something continuous. So, we... don't really die.
    Basil Brown: Mark my words May. I won't receive any credit. I won't even be a footnote.

    It's so quiet, this film, but so genuinely authentic and moving and informative. Why aren't movies like this anymore? Because the market calls for flash. You can see that in the contrast of Mulligan's two recent roles. Promising Young Woman seems timely and exciting. The Dig is timeless and resonant in a subtler way.

    This is also a setting right of the record. Basil Brown was self-taught, and when the magnitude of the Sutton Hoo discovery was known, professional archaeologists took over, and for decades neither Brown, who discovered the treasures, nor Edith Pretty, through whose initiative he began the dig, was acknowledged. The book and film, while eliding complicated details of the dig, unearth their monumental accomplishment.

    The Dig, 112 mins., had limited US and New Zealand release Jan. 12, 2012, available on the internet (Netflix) since the end of January. Metascore: 73%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-01-2021 at 06:44 PM.


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