Review of the Netflix film The Dig written by Moira Buffini and directed by Simon Stone Rating *****
I usually disapprove of filmmakers who twist the truth to add conflict or embellish a story. However, I have enjoyed a few good movies that I knew beforehand or learned later contained fabricated characters and scenes: Argo, Braveheart, Gladiator. You can add this film to the list. I’d also put this film in the same category as those other movies.
The story involves the discovery of an archeological treasure buried beneath earth mounds located on the estate of a wealthy widow. There is plenty of conflict to keep the story moving: the threat of interruption from war, weather, class distinctions, disputes over ownership, the actual dig itself done with little more than shovels and trowels. It’s the characters who populate the story, though, that make it so compelling.
It all starts with the screenplay by Moira Buffini based on the novel by John Preston. She provides the blueprint for all that follows. The Dig is one of those rare films where everything falls into place: script, acting, direction, cinematography, score. I was even impressed with the editing.
The drama unfolds slowly but with purpose and consequence. There are no wasted scenes. You know you are watching an expertly crafted film when subtext is the method used for delivering many story elements, such as the underlying sexual tension present with several characters.
The acting was understated but impactful. Ralph Fiennes, Carey Mulligan, and Lily James were exceptional. The direction by Simon Stone stood out. And then there is the cinematography by Mike Eley. Mike found a way to make digging in dirt look beautiful. One brief scene stood out for me. It’s a brief shot of Basil Brown seen in silhouette lighting his pipe. The whole scene, which lasted all of five seconds, must have taken an hour or two to set up, but it added to the overall feel of the movie. You can catch that scene in the trailer below.
As for the invented elements, I’ll give them a pass. I still want to travel to the British Museum and see the actual artifacts.