Saturday, 6 February 2021

The Dig ...

 

 

Last night it poured with rain,

So instead of going out for a walk, a drink, or something more interesting we stayed in and watched The Dig on Netflix.

The plot is based on a novelised  account of the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship in Suffolk just before the second world war.

It is of course fiction. 

Time is compressed, characters are introduced, and sometimes events are changed or exaggerated for dramatic effect. It is most definitely not a historical documentary about the Sutton Hoo dig.

So, pretend for a moment you know nothing of the story.

What you have is quiet, gentle, rather English, story of how the definitely upper middle class Edith Pretty employs the down to earth working class, highly experienced archaeological excavator Basil Brown to excavate some tumuli on her land. This is of course 1930's England where there are few if any regulations to protect sites of interest.

Brown, against expectations, finds a buried ship grave, and all the great and the good of the university educated academic archaeological world pour in displaying their prejudices and privileges, and Brown is sidelined and his expertise and role in the discovery downplayed

The movie, without banging a drum about it, nicely draws out the class and academic prejudices of England in the 1930s, and how, before the unemployment queues were full of recent archaeology graduates, much of the day to day work of excavation was in the hands of immensely experienced and practical men such as Brown, while the academic archaeologists spent their time thinking great thoughts and speculating about 'objects of ritual significance'.

The movie is highly enjoyable, beautifully photographed and neatly uses the appearance of flights of RAF aircraft over the dig site, and squads of soldiers in the country lanes, to build a picture of the increasing tension as it became more and more evident that war was inevitable and as a counterpoint to the race to excavate the site before war comes.

I would say that it is more 'Brideshead Revisited meets Time Team' than 'The English Patient meets the Archaeology Data Service'.

Enjoy it for what it is, a well made, gentle movie about a vanished world ...

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