As a British TV addict and former archaeology nerd, Netflix’s “The Dig,” based on John Preston’s 2007 historical novel of the same name, gets me on a remarkable number of levels. So much so that, frankly, when I first saw the trailer, I thought someone was pulling my leg.
You’re telling me Netflix is giving me a dark academia film about archaeology set in the English countryside during World War II starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes and a few doomed romances? Has Christmas come early?
“Not in a month of Sundays,” I said to myself in the voice of “Downton Abbey’s” Mrs. Patmore. But no, indeed, this film is real, and it is a delight; it’s beautifully shot, and the script leaves little to be desired.
Edith Pretty (Mulligan), the owner of (insert name of gorgeous English manor house here), hires Basil Brown (Fiennes) to begin excavating an unusually hilly field on her estate, which he believes to be a series of Viking burial mounds.
“We’re standing in someone’s graveyard, I reckon,” Brown says, explaining that although he lacks any formal training, Brown has plenty of practical experience, having learned everything he knows about the basics of archaeology from his father.
“I’ve been on digs since I was old enough to hold a trowel,” he says.
As they’re discussing wages for the dig, Pretty’s son, Robert (Archie Barnes), runs in wearing a gas mask, alerting us that the war is very much around the corner.
The following week, Brown begins the dig with a discouraging set of manual tools and two rather reluctant men from the estate.
Following their first – rather disappointing – find, a pair of Oxford experts visit to appraise the artifacts and persuade Pretty to abandon her project in favor of another.
But Brown believes the real find will be on the Pretty estate, as he realizes that what he assumed to be a Viking artifact might well have dated much earlier.
After the first mound caves in on him, Brown has a near-death epiphany that leads him to restart the dig despite the unwelcome influence of an interfering group of men from the British Museum.
As the war approaches, Pretty and Brown alike seem determined to bury themselves in the past, with the artifacts on one level and their own demons on another.
Will the dig yield some promising new piece of history? Or will it only serve to distract them from their rapidly darkening present?
“The Dig” is available on Netflix.
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