Set in 1939 in the countryside as England was on the brink of W.W.II, this period drama stars Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) as wealthy, widowed Lady Edith Pretty who believes there are historical artifacts buried on her estate, known as Sutton Hoo, near the River Deben
Since neither the renown British Museum nor the local Ipswich Museum will dispatch an experienced archeologist to evaluate her claims, she hires a local excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), to uncover whatever treasure lies beneath the mysterious mounds of earth.
Although he lacks formal training, willful, self-taught Brown is passionate about ‘digs,’ claiming he can identify dirt from anywhere in Suffolk and he can pinpoint the land it came from. Encouraged by his devoted wife (Monica Dolan), he’s propelled by the belief that learning about the past teaches future generations where they came from.
Sure enough, with ailing Mrs. Pretty’s encouragement, Brown discovers what will turn out to be the greatest, early medieval treasure ever unearthed in the United Kingdom.
It’s an 80’-long, wooden Anglo-Saxon ship hauled up on land to bury East Anglia’s 7th century ruler, King Raedwald. In the burial chamber were his helmet, gold belt buckle, sword & shield, along with a tiny gold coin known a “Merovingian tremisss.” 263 objects in all.
That discovery draws the attention of Brown’s pretentious Ipswich Museum bosses (Paul Ready, Peter McDonald), along with arrogant Charles Phillips (Ken Stott) from the British Museum, who declares the ancient vessel is of significant cultural interest, placing the site under Ministry control.
Meanwhile, there are several subplots: one involves Mrs. Pretty’s young son Robert (Archie Barnes), another pivots around her dashing photographer cousin Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn) and a pair of unhappily married archeologists: Stuart Piggott (Ben Chaplin) and his wife Peggy (Lily James).
Based on a true story it’s adapted by Moira Buffini from a 2007 novel by John Preston (Peggy Piggott’s nephew) and sedately helmed by theater director Simon Stone.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Dig” is a solid, satisfying 7, streaming on Netflix.