Netflix's The Dig gets the thumbs up from critics

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig Picture: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. The first reviews for the Netflix film are in and they give the Suffolk movie a big thumbs up - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX

The cast of upcoming Netflix film The Dig have been universally praised for their warm and engaging performances by critics ahead of its launch later this month.

The film, about the class-defying friendship between landowner Edith Pretty and self-taught archaeologist Basil Brown, along with the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, is set to be released on Netflix on January 29 but the reviews are all ready in.

The cast are universally praised for their warm and engaging performances, the atmospheric, immediately pre-war setting also gets the thumbs up, as does the Suffolk landscape (which features quite heavily) but it’s personal taste that determines whether the film as a whole gets two or five stars.

Some critics - who generally have a dislike of ‘quaint English heritage movies’ struggled to embrace the gentle, thoughtfulness of The Dig, while those who enjoy a good literary adaptation found themselves buried in their own archaeological excavation of Suffolk’s own recent history.

So what did the critics say?

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig Picture: LARRY HORRICKS/

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. The story of Basil Brown and Edith Pretty and the excavation of Sutton Hoo is released on Netflix on January 29. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX


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Screen International: Fionnuala Halligan wrote: “The words ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘charming’ are bandied about so enthusiastically in relation to ‘British heritage cinema’ that when a film does come along that manages to authentically be both, the words feel somewhat inadequate, even unintentionally dismissive. But there’s a rare, old-school honesty to The Dig… Fiennes is irresistible as the gruff, broad, heart-of-gold Brown.”

The Times: Kevin Maher wrote: “The Dig is an emotionally piercing and intoxicating drama about the pull of the past. The Dig, however, belongs to Fiennes and Mulligan, both delivering career-high turns. This is serious, intellectually committed, and emotionally piercing cinema. Unmissable.”

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The Guardian: Peter Bradshaw wrote: “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. This doesn’t stop The Dig being engaging, and with a beautiful sense of landscape. 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. This movie has Englishness right through it like a stick of rock, a vigorous sense of place and period.”

The Daily Telegraph: Robbie Collin wrote: “Ralph Fiennes’s Sutton Hoo drama, The Dig, is a beautiful, heartfelt period tale. There is an extraordinary sequence in which Fiennes walks to the water’s edge to sit and smoke his pipe shortly after the ship is unearthed, and watches in amazement as a boat drifts past him, right to left. It's just an ordinary modern-day vessel working the river, but for a second or two he believes – as, honestly, did I – that ancient history has somehow sailed into the present. The terrific cast clearly know their characters intimately, and one of the great pleasures of the film is watching their individual outlooks shift from scene to scene, as both the ancient ship and the coming war remind them all that history is very long, and our own roles within it heartbeat-short.”

The Hollywood Reporter: David Rooney wrote: “Class as much as gender constraints obscured the achievements of 19th century English paleontologist Mary Anning, magnificently played by Kate Winslet in Francis Lee's slow-burn elemental love story Ammonite. And class barriers continue to marginalize the work of Ralph Fiennes' self-taught archeologist Basil Brown almost a century later in The Dig… the storytelling is laced with a gentle thread of melancholy that makes this Netflix feature quite affecting.”

Variety: Peter Debruge wrote: “An homage to such films as “Howards End,” this gentle and almost painfully polite British drama takes place in 1939 on the cusp of World War II, and it rather poetically places the turbulence of the then-present conflict within the perspective of the millennia of human experience that came before.  At the center of this unhurried yet engaging project are two meticulously calibrated performances from Carey Mulligan (playing the 56-year-old Pretty) and Ralph Fiennes as amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (who was slightly younger, 51, at the time). Mulligan conveys the inner strength in a slowly dying character, while Fiennes is surly and behind a thick Suffolk accent. Together, the pair explore a dynamic that is not at all romantic — but instead treat audiences to an understated show of mutual respect that transcends education and class. Sometimes the best escape from the craziness of today is to lose oneself in history.”

NME: Paul Bradshaw wrote: “Archaeological films are having a moment. During October’s London Film Festival, we watched Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan swooning over old fossils in Ammonite, and now we’ve got Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes swooning over old boats in The Dig – another beautifully shot metaphor for the way we bury our true feelings, and another reminder that Indiana Jones made digging up history look far cooler than it actually is. When The Dig follows Pretty and Brown’s story, there’s plenty to admire. From Fiennes disappearing behind a mumbly Suffolk farm accent, to Mulligan making the most of a wonderfully underwritten backstory, Stone lets the first act play out with sleepy Sunday charm, shooting the golden-brown East Anglian landscape with a beautiful eye for cinema. Both leads are at their best working with subtleties, and there’s real treasure to be found in the finer, unspoken details of two characters who slow-build a friendship without really realising it.”
 

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