On a beautiful estate in Surrey on the eve of the Second World War, recently widowed Edith Pretty (Mulligan) decides to act on her curiosity and excavate some of the ancient burial mounds that cover her property. She hires Basil Brown (Fiennes) for the task, a local working class professional with a nose for knowing just where to dig. When he finally hits pay dirt, a team from the august British Museum arrives, and the whole enterprise soon becomes freighted with personalities and politics. Meanwhile, Edith, a fierce defender of Brown, has a heart condition that’s worsening. Will she survive to see all that the dig uncovers?
Captivating, atmospheric historical drama, based partly on fact, reflects grand, old-fashioned filmmaking at its very best, anchored by two fabulous star turns from Mulligan and Fiennes. We watch as Edith and Basil become increasingly devoted, but coming from different generations and classes, any actual romance is impossible. So their love remains purely spiritual, but no less affecting. Meanwhile, amidst the continuum of history there are signs of impermanence, with planes overhead hinting at the coming devastation and Edith’s eventual use of a cane signaling her own physical decline. Beautifully shot, designed and scored, “The Dig” delivers on all fronts.