As cozy as a cup of tea, The Dig tells the story of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo, a 6th-century burial site in East Anglia in the East of England. If your interest in scientific-discovery biopics runs toward the likes of Ammonite, Radioactive or Summerland, pull up a tuffet and settle in. Raiders of the Lost Ark this ain’t.
The film opens with Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) agreeing to do some digging into the ancient mounds that dot the property of widow Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan). He’s clearly a knowledgeable archaeologist (and a decent astronomer to boot) but owing to a lack of formal education he refers to himself as an excavator. The snooty Charles Phillips (Ken Stott) from the local museum is more than happy to slap that label on him as well.
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Burial mounds are mysteries hiding in plain sight. The circular ones at Sutton Hoo have been visible for centuries, and many have been plundered of their valuables, but as the clever Mr. Brown concludes, one of them is misshapen, leading would-be robbers to have plumbed the wrong portion for treasure. His careful exploration soon reveals the remains of a ship burial from before the time of the Vikings.