Simon Stone directs Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes and Lily James in this period drama where an unlettered working class excavator is set to task on an overlooked Dark Ages mound that turns out to be the historically significant Sutton Hoo burial site.
Better than I anticipated, this is a quite involving drama that uses its ensemble like stepping stones, moving on to a new protagonist’s stiff upper lip soap opera with every new act while never losing its place in the greater geography of the story. There’s been the usual controversy /award season smear that such and such’s character was made up or that and that’s historical figure was far older… which is a nonsense when a low key, cleanly written drama is so involving. Embellishments are cinema, we come to be seduced, to see the filtered, enticingly tidied up version. This makes archeology sexy without a rolling boulder or bullwhip in sight. It makes the poshos seem dignified with minimal pomp or circumstance. Fiennes is particularly exemplary as the forthright man of talent having to navigate a world who dismiss him as cheap negotiable labour, he brings a dignity and quiet intelligence to the role. The often wet James and Mulligan are unusually good here, Stone brings out the best in these actresses in a fluid slice of 1930s cottagecore. Mike Eley’s on location cinematography is outstanding, you can feel the soil and sun and burrs, it immerses you so. The one glaring misstep the movie makes is we never really get a good prolonged look at the treasures painstakingly unearthed while emotions are being churned up around the edges of The Dig.
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