‘The Dig’ is calm but enjoyable

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“The Dig” is a nice and pleasant movie available now on Netflix that might be a bit boring for some.

How do you turn an archaeological dig into an entertaining movie? You do it with interesting characters, you do it with good actors and you try to add some entertaining subplots here and there. Which is to say that “The Dig” mostly makes it work.

It’s far more entertaining than watching dirt being dug should be.

“The Dig” is a dramatization of the excavation of Sutton Hoo in Britain in 1938, on the eve of World War II. The movie tells the story of working class excavator Basil Brown and his discovery of a burial ship dating back to the Dark Ages on land owned by the widow Edith Pretty. And then a bunch of other characters show up.

I can’t stress enough how calm “The Dig” is as a film. Imagine an old fashioned, blue collar working man who doesn’t want to make waves, who just wants to do the job and do it right. That is Basil Brown, played by Ralph Fiennes. And that is the majority of “The Dig”. Mr. Brown gets to work digging through the dirt, and when he realizes what he’s found — arguably the most important archaeological find in modern British history — he continues digging, but a bit more carefully.

About halfway through the film, “The Dig” decides it needs to be more interesting, so a bunch of new characters are introduced. These characters were all historically involved in the actual excavation, but the movie wrings what drama it can out of them. There’s the uptight professional archaeologist who doesn’t like Brown’s work. There’s Mrs. Pretty’s handsome cousin, who is grappling with signing up for the British air force ahead of the war.Then there’s Peggy Piggott, a young academic who is trapped in a loveless marriage, and whose husband is also working on the site. And suddenly “The Dig” is not just about the actual dig, but also about some mild relationship drama. It’s a bit of a weird swerve, but not completely unwelcome.

What’s even weirder is when you find out later that “The Dig” is based on a book by the same name, written by Piggot’s nephew in 2007. Did the author add a romantic subplot about his aunt to his historical retelling of an archaeological dig?

But the finer details don’t matter. The cast all turn in fine performances that help keep “The Dig” moving right along. And the excavation itself is pretty interesting.

“The Dig” is the perfect sort of movie if all you want is a steady, pleasant movie-watching experience with a touch of historical curiosity.

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