Film of the Year
Trying to choose a film of the year for me in 2021 has posed somewhat of a challenge, simply because I haven’t seen anywhere near as many as I normally would have. Living in Japan, where cinemas weren’t as restricted as they were in other markets, it often felt like we were missing out on the chances afforded to others – whereas day-and-date streaming releases became a thing in 2021, for us there was still a heavy reliance on the cinema. I, admittedly, didn’t feel too comfortable with the idea of heading into a potentially crowded closed space for two hours, so I’d been keeping my distance. My choices then, were somewhat limited, making The Dig the only 2021 release I’d seen for much of the year. Cue my return to the UK, and I’ve crammed in a number of other titles since then, including some much-anticipated big hitters like House of Gucci. What I realised however, was that I didn’t love any of them in the same way that I had fallen head over heels with The Dig.
A reimagining of the excavation of Sutton Hoo in 1939, The Dig features Cary Mulligan as Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as archaeologist Basil Brown, who has been hired by Pretty to look at the burial grounds located on her estate. The story deals with class issues in the scientific world of 1939, features a light smattering of LGBT representation and even attempts to deal with some lofty questions regarding our place in the world. The cinematography is beautiful – wide open vistas of the English countryside fill the screen, a hazy yellow glow illuminating the ground. This is a quiet movie – there are often relatively long periods without dialogue as you drink in the visuals and the often tranquil atmosphere.
The Dig is a film that knows the story it wants to share, and how best to do so – things never start to feel boring or dull, even during the quieter moments, and I found myself getting deeply invested in the tension between the working class Brown and Cambridge archaeologist Charles Phillips – especially as the excavation drew to a close and questions around who would get credit for the discovery began to raise their ugly head. The human element to the story also helped keep things fresh and interesting, as Pretty’s failing health added another threat to proceedings.
I don’t want to spoil too much about the ending of The Dig, but I have to share that there are some incredibly poignant moments as the story heads into its conclusion. One moment sees our two protagonists, Pretty and Brown, sitting together in the back of a car, the former ruminating on the finality of death. Brown’s response to this has stayed with me ever since I first watched, and possibly highlights the true message of the film – that we humans are all connected in a world that is much larger than any individual, dating right back to the beginning of our species. In a year that saw me continue to be separated from family and the majority of my friends, it’s a message that I think I really needed to hear.
Honestly, I don’t expect to see The Dig on a lot of year-end lists as we head into that season – it is perhaps a little too gentile for many, and Netflix’ original movies don’t hold the same critical sway as their television division – but I strongly encourage you to go out on a limb and try it. I really do believe you’ll fall in love with its beautifully woven tale as much as I did.