While England is on the brink of World War II, a wealthy widow (Carey Mulligan) hires a self-taught excavator (Ralph Fiennes) to dig up burial mounds on her property thinking there could be some Viking finds. Instead, they make the discovery of a lifetime, a sixth century Anglo Saxon ship. Inspired by a true story and based on a novel by John Preston of the same name, The Dig, paints a cinematic rendering rife with historical intrigue and human drama.
Mulligan and Fiennes are great as always, as is the rest of the cast, but it’s really the cinematic flourishes that mesmerize. Director Simon Stone works efficiently with his cinematographer Mike Eley and editor Jon Harris to craft a film of creative angles, wonderfully lit countryside, and energetic transitions. There’s so much of interest in every frame, and their sequential composition looped with haunting disembodied dialogue evokes the best elements of Terrence Malick and the late Anthony Minghella. Stefan Gregory’s music score punctuates every scene beautifully.
Meanwhile, Moira Buffini’s script surgically layers in what were likely the best elements of the novel to give characters just enough backstory and hardship to make the audience care not just about the fate of the dig, but the fate of each character’s heart (both literally and metaphorically). An offhand conversation about a nightingale singing alongside a cellist adds the kind of poetic character and story color that makes small intimate moments (a near forbidden kiss) sprinkled amidst an otherwise dull romance subplot shimmer with moody tension.
The Dig might not be groundbreaking or chart any new territory, but its innate charms and creative presentation make it a film to luxuriate in and enjoy fully.