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Review: “The Dig” (2021)

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Netflix Release: 1/29/2021

Netflix Release: 1/29/2021


Edith Pretty's (Carey Mulligan) curiosity has been drawn to the mysterious mounds that exist on her land. She and her husband bought the property because of the mounds, and they hoped to explore the secrets that lie within the mounds together. It is unclear exactly how long these mounds have been there, but it is clear that they have been there for a long, long time. It is also clear that these mounds were man-made, which means there must have been a reason for creating them, making it likely that they hold a secret of some kind.

After her husband's passing, Edith decided to hire an excavator named Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to uncover whatever secrets the mounds might be holding. Tensions in Britain are high with World War II seeming imminent, which would bring Britain to war with Germany once again. However, Basil makes a shocking discovery within the mounds that may challenge preconceived notions of ancient civilizations. With this discovery comes a lot of attention from archeologists and museum curators, despite the imminent war facing the country. Many see the potential fame that could come with being the one to discover and house the artifacts found in the mound, and credit seekers threaten to make Basil's vital contribution an afterthought in history.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Edith and Basil (+5pts)

Significance (-5pts)

Discovery (+4pts)

Cluttered (-5pts)

Lily James (+3pts)

Slow (-4pts)

A still from the film.

A still from the film.

Pro: Edith and Basil (+5pts)

The relationship between these two characters was not something I expected to enjoy as much as I did. Now to be clear, I thought their relationship was a little weird, and I did not entirely understand what it was due to Basil's situation, but I enjoyed the character's bond and I thought the two performers worked well together. Basil was no archeologist, but he was a skilled excavator with a passion for the craft. Then there was Edith, who was passionate about what may lie underneath the mounds, and the two characters' relationship and respect for one another only grew from there. I thought their bond felt very natural, and I enjoyed seeing it go through the twists and turns of this story.

Edith was not without her secrets, however. She had some health issues that made her increasingly desperate to uncover the secrets beneath the mound, and it fueled her passion to see this project through. Then there was Basil, who was not in this project for the fame or glory, but the idea of his name being swept aside and others potentially taking credit for his contribution was one that understandably did not sit right with him. I liked these characters' bond together, I liked their individual stories, and I thought both Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes did a great job with their respective parts.



Con: Significance (-5pts)

I thought the filmmakers could have done a much better job with the significance of what Basil discovered. To be fair, if I made such a discovery in my own backyard, I would think that it was a pretty big deal, but for a movie, I did not think the filmmakers conveyed how significant this discovery actually was. What were the previously accepted beliefs regarding Vikings and Anglo Saxons, and how did this discovery challenge those beliefs? What did it mean for human history, and why was it so important? The answers to those questions were in here, but they were sort of just thrown out for the sake of answering them, as it felt like the filmmakers viewed answering these questions as a chore, rather than giving them the attention they deserved. This resulted in the movie failing to show me how significant this discovery was, which was really what this whole story should have been about.

Pondering the dig.

Pondering the dig.

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Pro: Discovery (+4pts)

The discovery could have been a lot more exciting if I cared about the significance of what was being discovered. That being said, I still thought the scenes in which discoveries were being made were satisfying. In my opinion, the filmmakers did a poor job of getting the viewer to understand the significance of the discovery, but there was still something inherently satisfying in watching these characters getting excited over what they found. While I did not understand the implications that the discoveries made, I bought that these characters were historical and archeological experts, and seeing them get excited got me excited. This was almost entirely thanks to the strong performances from the entire cast, as the performers made me buy the characters, which made me buy what they were feeling, even though I thought the filmmakers did a lousy job at explaining why it was such a big deal.

A still from the film.

A still from the film.

Con: Cluttered (-5pts)

One thing this movie had working against it was how cluttered it felt. This story was really about Basil, Edith, and their mission to uncover what was hidden beneath the mounds. That was the heart of this story, but the filmmakers felt the need to add all this extra stuff, and I thought it distracted from the main story quite a bit. There was the looming threat of World War II, which ultimately had no impact on this story at all. There was also the side plot and romantic storyline regarding Stuart (Ben Chaplin), Margaret (Lily James), and Rory (Johnny Flynn), which was predictable and felt irrelevant to the main plot. Then there was the feud between the two museums and their intentions regarding the discovery.

I did not know this while watching the movie, but after finishing the movie, I learned that it was based on a novel. Having this many intertwining storylines may have worked in the book, but with only a two-hour runtime, there simply was not enough time to cram all of this into one coherent movie. By cramming it all in here, it sort of tied the filmmakers' hands behind their backs, limiting them from really sinking their teeth into any single storyline. Each of these side characters and subplots had their interesting moments, but each had the potential to be so much more impactful if only the filmmakers had more time to flesh them out. I just think the movie would have been much better served if the filmmakers cut a couple of these subplots out of the movie, and properly developed the remaining ones.

A still from the film.

A still from the film.

Pro: Lily James (+3pts)

As much as I thought her character and her character's story were irrelevant to the main story, I thought Lily James did a decent job in the role. Her character did not appear until pretty late in the movie, but her presence was a welcomed addition to it. Of all of the extra characters running around, she was the one that stood out. You will feel bad for her position—as she felt overlooked in every aspect of her life—and Lily James gave the role a relatability that will have viewers wanting to see things work out for her. It was not an overly dramatic or fascinatingly developed character, but I thought Lily James did a good job with it.

Lily James.

Lily James.

Con: Slow (-4pts)

This was a slow movie, especially in the beginning. After about the halfway point of the movie, discoveries were made, and things felt like they were finally progressing. It never felt like things were progressing toward any sort of exciting climax, but things at least felt like they were moving forward. The first hour or so of the movie, however, felt like a crawl. Not much happened, and it made the movie feel long. The filmmakers probably could have cut 30 minutes off of the first hour of this movie, and it would have made the movie far leaner. By not trimming it down, the filmmakers delivered a two-hour movie in which the first half was somewhat of a struggle to get through.

Grading Scale





























What's going on under the dirt?

What's going on under the dirt?

Grade: C- (73pts)

I have seen a lot of really high praising reviews for this movie, and after seeing the movie myself, it left me wondering if I had watched the wrong one. It was not bad, do not get me wrong, but it was not the amazing movie that so many reviews made it out to be. Basil and Edith were interesting characters on paper, and I enjoyed seeing Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan bringing their stories to the screen. The scenes in which discoveries were being made were inherently exciting and satisfying, but I thought the filmmakers did a poor job of making me care about the significance of what was being discovered. I also thought Lily James did a good job of making her character relatable, and she recaptured my interest, as the movie began shifting focus away from Basil.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers tried to do way too much with too little time. They had two hours to adapt a novel to the screen, and I did not think the filmmakers trimmed enough out of the story. There were a bunch of subplots that distracted from the main story, and they used up so much screentime that the filmmakers were unable to really dive deep into anything, which meant that no storyline had the impact they should have had. This, mixed with a very slow first hour, made for a movie that I thought fell pretty far short of its potential.

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