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MOVIES: The Dig - Review

The Dig is a brand-new Netflix original that takes part of the streamer’s commitment to bring a new film every week – The White Tiger was last Friday’s film, and this is a radical genre shift, diverting from an epic rags to riches storyline to something quieter and subdued - a smaller scale film feels somewhat welcomed after last week's adventures. The streamer moves focus this week to the 1930s in the inter-war years for a simple story focusing on archaeologists in Surrey, England, who stumble across the find as a lifetime as the threat of the second World War feels just around the corner.

At its best when it is at its most small-scaled, The Dig unfortunately loses its focus once it sprawls away from its subject matter, introducing unnecessary plot threads that see it tackle one idea too many. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes are a delight, with the film capturing the old school vibe of a small scale place and time in a countryside quite nicely – Mulligan’s conviction is shown through her character, and Fiennes brings that stiff reliability that is comparable to his performance in Dunkirk, acting as an everyman in a film that offers a shrewd commentary on the British Museum and its need to be involved in everything of archaeological significance regardless of whether or not it owns the right to the product. There are some half-baked ideas of conflict here that unfortunately whimper out with a rather underwhelming ending that kind of runs out of steam in its third act, not leaving a mark that the best period dramas tend to do and not really finding a way to say anything interesting about its subject matter.

The main issue with this film is its lack of spark, there are multiple moments where it threatens to come to life and the likeability of its cast goes some way to make it watchable, but no matter how charming Simon Stone’s film feels, it can’t quite take off. The visuals provide a Terrence Malick-influenced treat with some stellar shots of the British countryside, with the film acting as a showcase for the brilliant work of Mike Eley, who is a Fiennes regular, having worked with him on the terrific The White Crow, but other than those wondering what Time Team might look like if it was set in the 1930s, there isn’t much to write home about here. Its genuine commitment to authentic archaeology is welcomed and it tells a story structured similarly to Phyllida Llyod’s Herself, but as someone who didn’t like that film either, it’s hard to find much to recommend this movie unless you want a nice, lazy afternoon watch where you don’t have to pay too much attention to what’s going on - it doesn't require that much investement feeling like a warm comfort watch resisting the need to focus on any of its subjects too deeply.

Lily James and Johnny Flynn step into The Dig halfway through as the main causes of the film's more problematic elements. It starts a new chapter and whilst their performances aren’t bad, per say, it’s when the film loses focus a bit and becomes more sprawling, almost abandoning its initial focus in favour of an anti-war commentary that feels, like everything here, underwritten, despite an interesting look into what the country was investing its preparations in, leaving to the end result of the film feeling like two movies happening at once that are both at odds with each other. The romance that develops between the two characters is never quite fully resolved and neither are you given enough of a reason to be invested in it – which in part is due to how late in the game they are introduced. The film could have used a trimming of characters as there was enough potential in its early act to make it a heart-warming comfort film, but when the film itself expands, so to do its multitude of issues that never truly go away, making The Dig hard to recommend.

The Dig is available on Netflix internationally now.

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