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The Dig Pays Respect to Incredible Real-Life Discovery

Carey Mulligan earns praise as widow overseeing 1939 archaeological dig
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 29, 2021 11:30 AM CST

(Newser) – In The Dig, an English widow recruits an amateur archaeologist to dig up mysterious mounds on her rural property in Suffolk, suspecting something is buried within. What the pair uncover turns out to be one of the most stunning archaeological finds of the 20th century. Streaming Friday on Netflix, the Simon Stone-directed film starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, based on a true story (and the 2007 John Preston book of the same name), has an 86% score on Rotten Tomatoes, though some critics are still getting in their, um, digs. Four takes:

  • Joe Morgenstern is "glad" all around: "I'm glad it got made … and made with such intelligence and respect for the factual details of the discovery by people who obviously loved what they were doing; glad it's available to a wide audience on Netflix; and glad to have gained from it a heightened, and lengthened, sense of human history," he writes at the Wall Street Journal, describing the entire cast as "superb."
  • Less impressed is David Fear, who gives the film 2.5 stars out of five. While some "breathtaking" shots will "give you goose bumps," the film set in 1939 feels "out of its time"—"like something extracted from a boutique studio’s vault sealed in the 1990s," he writes at Rolling Stone. "A lot happens, with curiously little effect" and the film ends "having given you little more than multiple servings of weak English tea."

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  • It starts as a "quiet little gem of a drama" then expands to include "new characters and a myriad of subplots, most examining the classism and sexism of the era," writes Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times. It's "maybe too much." Luckily, there are beautiful visuals and a "damn good" performance by Mulligan to enjoy—enough for three stars out of four.
  • "Fiennes and Mulligan … make lovely, delicate work of characters whose emotions operate for so much of the film like icebergs, only exposed at the tip,” writes Leah Greenblatt at Entertainment Weekly. "The script can't always stay on that path with them as it swings toward sentiment or gets wrapped up in other storylines." But you'll laugh "in a properly low-key English way" and cry "but not too outrageously," and in that sense, "The Dig more than fulfills its destiny."
(Mulligan took issue with a review of another of her films, leaving the critic fearing for his job.)

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