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The Dig review – Sutton Hoo excavation romance is none too deep

Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes unearth an Anglo-Saxon burial ship, but leave their emotions interred, in this robustly English dramaThe Dig is actua

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Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes unearth an Anglo-Saxon burial ship, but leave their emotions interred, in this robustly English drama

The Dig is actually not a very earthy film, though there is intelligence and sensitivity and a good deal of English restraint and English charm, thoroughly embodied by the fine leading performers Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes. But the passions mostly stay buried, and the movie is disconcertingly structured in such a way that we are first asked to invest in these two intriguingly complex personalities, but then – just when their emotions might get disinterred – the focus shifts to a younger pair with more obvious romantic potential, played by Johnny Flynn and Lily James. Mulligan and Fiennes look like two characters who have been written out of their own soap opera. This doesn’t stop The Dig being engaging, and with a beautiful sense of landscape.

It is based on the true story of the sensational Sutton Hoo excavation in Suffolk on the eve of the second world war; an Anglo-Saxon burial ship was found by the self-taught working-class archaeologist Basil Brown, whose historic discovery the academic establishment instantly tried to appropriate, without credit. He had been hired by the local landowner and widow Edith Pretty, who had long nursed an instinct that there was something in the “mounds” on her property. The movie is vigorously adapted by screenwriter Moira Buffini from the 2007 novel by journalist and author John Preston – whose aunt Margaret Piggott was involved in the dig.

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