The Dig

When I was in primary school, I wanted to be an archaeologist. And yes folks, I was an Indiana Jones fan, but I liked to feel I wasn’t being unduly influenced and was more advanced in my thinking. Even as a 10 year old, I had books on archaeology and was very firm in my beliefs that it wasn’t about swinging on ropes and wearing a leather jacket, no matter how cool I thought that was in the movies.

This led into walking home from school one day in 1986 with a girl I didn’t normally walk with. Her name was Natalie Henstock. I’m publishing that here just in case she ever Googles herself and finds this one day. In my mind, this might have even been the last day of primary school. I told her I wanted to be an archaeologist and she said that she’d like to be one, too. I was amazed that someone I’d known for years had the same desire as me and the fact we were talking about our future careers suggests to me that my 35 years ago memory of it being the last day of school might even be correct.

In the end I never became an archaeologist. I went through a few different career ideas during my high school years – especially becoming a vet – and archaeology just faded off into the distance. I wonder if Natalie became one? As far as I can remember, I think my increased reading on the career revealed how hard it was to get involved with it and I simply looked to careers that seemed more practical.

I still have a real love for archaeology however, and when films like The Dig present themselves, not only am I onboard, but when I have some existing background knowledge of the find itself, it’s even more interesting to me. That said, it took the better part of 2021 for me to actually watch this!

The film covers the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo in the UK. The site was first excavated by Basil Brown under the instruction of the landowner Edith Pretty. This is the main point the film emphasises over and over in different ways, including some text at the end suggesting that once more qualified archaeologists took over the dig, Brown and Pretty took a back seat into history even though they held, arguably, the most notable parts in the story, including Pretty giving the treasure to the nation.

There were a few aspects of the film I wondered about, in terms of, “Is this made up, or is this for real?” For example, a young female archaeologist is on the dig. She is a portrayal of the real-life figure, Peggy Piggott. Her husband is portrayed as being uninterested in her, even in a very sexual scene where she is naked in front of him. Further, he is shown wanting to spend time instead with another bloke; the clear insinuation being that he’s gay. I can find no real-life information that Peggy’s husband was gay, although they certainly did divorce in real life. I also wondered about the character, Rory Lomax, who Peggy falls for. He’s taking photos on the site and waiting for his RAF papers to come through. Some digging – no pun intended – reveals he’s a completely fictional character. And so on, I won’t go through every character so as to preserve some of the plot points of the story. But suffice to say, although The Dig is dealing with a real event, and has real characters, and mostly sticks to what they really did as far as I’m aware, there’s a healthy re-imagining going on in places, too. So approach with a grain of salt!

Ultimately, I was very happy with the piece. It’s not an action-adventure film (although I guess at one point an RAF plane ditches near the dig site), and is largely people having very British conversations and digging in dirt. But it’s enjoyable. It’s a really nice character piece, even if some of those characters are made up, or portrayed as older/younger than they really were. Artistic license is present, but not to a silly degree. This is a good film to slip on and relax with during a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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