released in a limited release on 15 January 2021, followed by streaming on
Netflix on 29 January 2021.
Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty hires local self-taught archaeologist-excavator
Basil Brown to tackle the large burial mounds at her rural estate in Sutton
Hoo. At first, she offers him the same amount of money he received from the
Ipswich Museum, about the minimum agricultural wage, but he says is
inadequate; she ups her offer by 12% to £2 a week (approximately £120 in 2020),
which he accepts. His former employers try unsuccessfully to persuade Brown to
work on a Roman villa they deem more important. They ignore Brown, who left
school aged only 12, when he suggests the mounds could be Anglo-Saxon rather
than the more common Viking.
with a few assistants from the estate, Brown slowly excavates the more
promising of the mounds. One day the dirt collapses on him, but he is dug out
in time and revived. Meanwhile, he spends more time with Edith, a widow, and
her young son, Robert, and ignores daily letters from his wife, May. Edith
struggles with health issues and is warned by her doctor to avoid stress.
astonished to uncover iron rivets from a ship, which could only make it the
burial site of someone of tremendous distinction, such as a king. Prominent
local archaeologist James Reid Moir attempts to join the dig but is rebuffed;
Edith instead hires her cousin Rory Lomax to join the project. However, news of
the discovery soon spreads, and Cambridge archaeologist Charles Phillips
arrives, declares the site to be of national importance, and takes over the dig
by order of the Office of Works.
approaches, Philips brings in a large team, including Peggy Piggott, who
uncovers the first distinctly Anglo-Saxon artifact. Brown is retained only to
keep the site in order, but Edith intervenes and he resumes digging. Brown
discovers a Merovingian tremissis, a small gold coin of Late Antiquity, and
Philips declares the site to be of major historical significance. Philips wants
to send all the items to the British Museum, but Edith, concerned about the war
raids in London, asserts her rights. An inquest confirms she is the owner of
the ship and its priceless treasure trove of grave goods, but she despairs as
her health continues to decline.
Peggy — who
is badly neglected by her husband, Stuart — begins a romance with Rory, but he
is soon called up by the Royal Air Force. Edith decides to donate the Sutton
Hoo treasure to the British Museum, requesting that Brown be given recognition
for his work. She dies in 1942.
states that the treasure was hidden in the London Underground during the war
and was first exhibited — without any mention of Basil Brown — nine years after
Edith's death. Only recently was Brown given full credit for his contribution
and his name is now displayed permanently alongside Edith Pretty's at the
aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 86% based on
95 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The website's critics consensus
reads, "Featuring beautifully matched performances from Ralph Fiennes and
Carey Mulligan set against gorgeously filmed English countryside, The Dig
yields period drama treasures." According to Metacritic, which sampled 32
critics and calculated a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, the film
received "generally favorable reviews".
of The Times gave the film 5 out of 5 stars and described it a "serious,
intellectually committed, and emotionally piercing cinema. Unmissable."
Katie Rife of The A.V. Club gave the film a B- and wrote, "for all the
film's sweeping, romantic ideas, the actual experience of watching The Dig is a
lot like sitting at a bus stop."
Mark Bridge of The Times noted that archaeologists had taken issue with the
film's portrayal of Peggy Piggott as inexperienced and only hired because her
light weight would not disturb the delicate site. By 1939, Peggy was an
experienced archaeologist in her own right, and had studied archaeology at the
University of Cambridge and the University of London. She was also presented as
married to an older, more experienced male archaeologist, when in reality
Stuart was only two years her senior (27 and 29, respectively), and they had
met while both students. In addition, Charles Phillips was in his late 30s but
is played by Ken Stott in his 60s, and the landowner Edith Pretty was in her
mid 50s but is played by Carey Mulligan in her mid 30s (the 53-year-old Nicole
Kidman had originally been slated to play Edith).
criticised the addition of the fictional Rory Lomax as a love interest for
Piggott. The character of Rory, Edith Pretty's cousin, is depicted as the
photographer. In reality, Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff (two local school
mistresses), and OGS Crawford (the archaeological officer of the Ordnance
Survey) separately took series of photographs. Two women who extensively
photographed the site were excluded from the book and film in order to create a