There are films that move us and then we move on. There are films that tiptoe into your soul, creating a nameless mood that never fully vanishes and comforts you with sheer beauty and humanism during vulnerable moments.
The Dig, a British film with classic Wuthering Heights touches, is playing currently on Netflix, starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes in lead roles, along with Lily James, who has played Rebecca in the new version. The film recreates the story of an excavation in a rural estate in Sutton Hoo, owned by the widow Edith Pretty.
She lives with her son Robert in a stately house and has been fascinated by the ancient burial mounds on the grounds ever since she was a child. She hires the taciturn excavator Basil Brown, played with laconic excellence by the immensely versatile Fiennes.
For the lonely widow, Brown is almost a mythical figure with the power to redeem her belief that something important is waiting to be found in the earth; she is traumatised when he almost dies in a mudslide and lighting up with joy when he excavates the remains of an ancient ship.
The mood is the art of the narration, sombre even in beauty, as if tragedy awaits hidden in the middle of transitory triumph. The rolling hills of the English countryside shot in golden light, the wooded plains and country lanes is cinematographer Mike Ely's homage to a lost century.
War and death are constant shades in the film which has stories within the story. "ot now, please not now," the dying widow pleads with her dead husband at his gravesite - she wants her childhood dream to come true before her heart gives out. Doom treads the moors and grounds of the countryside.
Lily James as Peggy, the emotionally frustrated wife of a team member, has a brief affair with Mrs Pretty's brother Rory who is called to serve in the Royal Air Force. "Rory, you cannot possibly die. Robert is going to need you," she commands her brother furiously as he leaves for the war.
Rory's future death haunts the house like a silent presence. Johnny Flynn who enacts the sci-fi obsessed Robert finds a parental surrogate in Mr Brown who shows him galaxies and stars through his telescope. It liberates the boy from his powerlessness to save his dying mother, because he becomes convinced that she will wait for him among the stars.
The war is a constant reminder of the future; battle planes growl in formation over the vast, soft landscape as punctuations of danger. An untrained pilot crashes into the river and drowns. The Dig is not just a movie. It is a story of hope that tells us death does not diminish the past of which history is the author.