Unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is doubtful The Last Dig will cause a surge in archeology school applications. Rest assured, this is a nice little Netflix film based on a true story. Still, excavations are long and laborious work. In an attempt to spice up the action, The Last Dig adds collapses and romance that never occurred. (See History vs Hollywood.) These add nothing to the story except more tedium. In many respects, The Last Dig would likely be better as a documentary.
All that aside, it is rather amazing that it took until the late 1930’s to begin The Dig at Sutton Hoo. Everyone seems aware that it was a burial site of some kind. Yet, without the largesse and determination of Edith Pretty, the major Anglo-Saxon find of the century goes unexplored. And, if properly compensated, Basil Brown probably refuses the offer of Mrs. Pretty. All this is once again set against the backdrop of an approaching World War II. Close to an RAF training base, one misdirected bomb or plane crash and all is lost. I give The Dig 3.5 Gavels and it receives an 86% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 7.3/10 IMDb score.
In 1939 Suffolk England, the Ipswich Museum is too busy unearthing a Roman villa to bother with the mounds on the property owned by Edith Pretty. They recommend an experienced excavator, though not formally trained archeologist, named Basil Brown. Soon, he realizes this is not Viking, but Anglo-Saxon. Others scoff until they see the outline of a buried ship. Then, everyone wants credit for the find. Does the find belong to Edith Pretty or the British government?
Recently, Carey Mulligan was in a furor for being too old in Promising Young Woman. Will there be the same fuss here playing a woman (Edith Pretty) twenty years older than her? Ralph Fiennes is another of the British treasures, albeit alive. His halting cadence as Basil Brown seems spot on. To add a little flair to the film, Lily James (Yesterday, Rebecca) appears as Peggy Piggott, an archeologist assistant at The Dig. In real life, my guess in that Ms. Piggott added more to The Dig than Ms. James adds to the film.
Once again, I wonder if there wasn’t a better story here if they’d just stayed with the facts. The actual three year dig is more interesting than a fantasized “trip to the cosmos.” I don’t doubt the accuracy of the quote, “if you want your son to die, have him join the RAF.”
“For all the film’s sweeping, romantic ideas, the actual experience of watching The Dig is a lot like sitting at a bus stop.” AV Club
“The Dig is well played, especially by the leads, and visually gorgeous, but it lacks fire and ironically doesn’t get under the surface of its story.” Empire Magazine
Notably, The Dig cost less than Boston’s Big Dig and took less time. Maybe they should have hired Basil Brown and crew.