Review: Netflix's The Dig strikes gold

Streamer: Netflix from Jan 29

Length: 112 minutes

Score: 4/5

Archeology is a funny old gig. Literally digging up the past, trying to find meaning in the buried bones of yesterday. Knowing you might be just one shovelful of dirt away from the next spectacular discovery that could change society’s perception of history itself. It’s fascinating stuff.

In movies and TV, however, archeology tends to be portrayed one of two ways. Firstly, there are horror movies like The Exorcist, where digging up an ancient artifacts leads to Linda Blair becoming an Airbnb for demons and projectile spewing pea soup with great alacrity.

Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) and Edith's Pretty's (Carey Mulligan) in The Dig
Netflix's The Dig starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes is drama gold. Photo: Netflix

Then, of course, there’s the handsome/sexy archaeologist trope made popular by your Indiana Jones’, your Lara Crofts’ and ol’ mate Brandan Fraser from The Mummy films.

While all of the above are enjoyable, they don’t really get to the core of what archeology really is. Mainly because it’s hard to make digging a hole interesting (sorry, Dale Kerrigan). Tell you what, though, Netflix’s newy, The Dig, gives it a red hot go and succeeds pretty damn well.


The Dig, which is inspired by a true story, tells the tale of widow Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) who lives on a farm in Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England. Edith wants to hire gruff but affable Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to have a dig around the medieval cemetery on her property. She’s particularly interested in a low hill about which she has a “feeling”.

Before too long, it becomes clear that there’s gold in that thar hill! Except, instead of literal gold, it’s an undisturbed Anglo-Saxon ship used in a fancy burial. A huge find and one of the most important archaeological discoveries of all time, right in Edith’s backyard.

Carey Mulligan plays Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes plays Basil Brown in Netflix's The Dig
Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) and Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) continue the noble British tradition of glaring at the sun. Photo: Netflix

Naturally, word of such a huge discovery spreads quickly and before too long, smarmy archeologist Charles Phillips (Ken Stott) lobs up to try and take over the joint, with other historical and university types descending on the farm like seagulls chasing a bag of hot chips.

What follows is an initially very slow moving, but ultimately utterly exquisite, piece of historical drama that focuses on how fleeting our time on this earth is, and how we should embrace it while we can.

Carey Mulligan is superb in a role that almost went to Nicole Kidman, and imbues Edith with a slightly sad dignity. Ralph Fiennes plays against type, and is the least glamorous you’ve ever seen him (yes, that includes the time he was Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon!) and does lovely, nuanced work here.

Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn) and Peggy Preston (Lily James)  The Dig
Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn) and Peggy Preston (Lily James) constantly look like they're about to nip off behind the bike sheds together. Photo: Netflix

The supporting cast are also fantastic, with Lily James making her Peggy Preston a believably lonely and frustrated wife of a bloke who prefers the company of other blokes, and Johnny Flynn as Rory Lomax: the rather dashing chap she has her eye on.

Aussie director Simon Stone does superb work telling a quietly moving story about ordinary people who find something of genuine historical significance.

This isn’t a rollicking adventure, mind you. This is much more suited to a Sunday afternoon, watching it with your mum over tea and biscuits. Taken as such, you’re likely to get pleasantly lost in this slow burn human story of life, death, love and continuity of humankind’s past to its present.

With a little patience, and an open mind, you’ll almost certainly dig The Dig.

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