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The Dig

Director Simon Stone Starring: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, Ken Stott, Archie Barnes, Monica Dolan Netflix 12 112 minutes 2021

I come from Suffolk and I love its history and its countryside. I am proud of the significance of the Anglo-Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo, with its astonishing hoard of treasure found on the threshold of World War 2. The Dig captures the story and the Suffolk perfectly. It is a lovely piece of work, only marred by a fictional love interest.

The film’s vocal coach talks of “Suffolkating” the script. The Suffolk accent is hard to get right. Often actors sound like something west of Swindon with a hint of pirate. The accent has a distinctive musicality, a sense of timing, with pregnant pauses. We invent words and elongate others like film to fiillim! Ralph Fiennes excels in capturing the Suffolk tone.

Three themes occupy the film.

First the human search for the meaning of the past. We are treasure seekers, who long in discover something new.

Secondly, the dig is excavating a burial site. The air of death is everywhere. Mrs Pretty has been recently widowed, and her own health is deteriorating. The lavish burial rituals indicate the attempt of our ancient forebears to tread a path through death by smoothing the way with considerable assets. This represented the sixth century tussle between two competing worldviews. Christian hope that rests in Jesus alone, and the pagan view of entering the next world with a show of great wealth.

Thirdly, the film is reminder of the ugliness of the class. “Mrs Pretty” living in the grand house with mysterious ancient mounds on her grounds, teams up with Basil Brown, a local self-taught unqualified but instinctive excavator. She treats him well, but the archaeologists from the British Museum who take over the dig, when its national importance becomes clear, display cruel class snobbery. It is only recently that Brown’s vital role in this discovery has been publicly recognised.

Christians might learn to value genuine treasure, solid hope and a love that looks beyond man-made categories of class.

John Woods is a writer and Bible teacher based in West Sussex

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