Watching The Dig with Revival

by Charlie Martin February 22, 2021

The Dig Mulligan and James
 
Clear skies, fresh air and something new to watch on Netflix, I thought this day would never come. Even if Spring isn't quite upon us yet, watching The Dig has got me excited for the countryside, pretty collars and maybe a trudge in the mud. 
 
The Dig, starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James and a host of other surprising faces, is the latest Netflix feature. Based on a book by the same name, it follows the real life events during the excavation of the Great Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo in 1939. More specifically, it focuses on the efforts of excavator, Basil Brown (Fiennes) and owner of the site, Edith Pretty (Mulligan). 
 
There was a lot to find refreshing about this film and I'm not just talking about the glorious shots of the English countryside. As an actress with a history degree, I always enjoy seeing women's stories given the spotlight and movie stars cast (even if only just slightly) against type. At one point I was worried that they were going to put in a romantic angle between Fiennes and Mulligan but luckily they steered away. I was much happier seeing him quietly respect her tenacity. 
 
Mulligan dress
(Elegant yet practical. Such a pretty print.)
 
However there is some wartime romance thrown in between James's character Peggy Piggott and Johnny Flynn. Flynn, in case you didn't know, is a singer/songwriter turned actor who wrote the theme tune for The Detectorists - he seems drawn to this subject. 
 
But personally, I was far more interested in the real character of Peggy Piggott (later Margaret Guido). A renowned archaeologist, she earned her first degree from Cambridge in 1934 although back then it was called a "diploma for women". She went on to study at the London Institute of Archaeology and was part of many excavations throughout her lifetime and was a prolific researcher. 
 
Lily James has been criticised for her bumbling portrayal of Peggy in The Dig, which I can understand. I did laugh when I saw they'd stuck a pair of Clark Kent glasses on her in the classic attempt to make the starlet look dorky! 
 
James and Flynn The Dig
(I could have sworn that was the linen Emmy skirt we had in SS19!)
 
That said, I believe James and the script was trying to highlight the awkwardness of a young woman at this time, perhaps made to feel somewhat of an imposter, at the start of her career in a very masculine and pretentious field. Piggott's nephew, who wrote the novel, has apparently said she was 27 at the time so unlikely to be "the grizzled professional" she was known as in later life.
 
James herself said of the role:
"The film catches her straight out of university and right at the beginning of her incredible journey. She was an archaeologist for almost 60 years and you just have this sense she had a full life and was brave. She achieved so much against all the odds; she’s an inspiration."
 
I was also delighted to see one of my favourite character actresses make an appearance, Monica Dolan (Alan Partridge, W1A). Playing May Brown, the steadfast wife of overlooked excavator Basil Brown, she provides the grit and resolution he needs to stand up against the classist academics. If you are unfamiliar with Dolan's work, please just watch everything on her IMDB page! She is incredibly versatile and a master of disguise. (I have no idea what age she actually is.)
 
Of course, I can't be reviewing a film for Revival and not talk about the clothes. 
 
Mulligan
 
There is a balance of utility and delicacy, or some might say masculine and feminine, in the styles of the late 1930s that I love and is captured well here. Dainty collars and pretty patterns are tucked into boxy trousers and shorts in an almost tomboyish way. It's rough and ready but still elegant. How I long to be! 
 
I'm pleased to reveal that this will be reflected in the upcoming collections from our Own Range and Revival favourites. My fingers are crossed for camping trips and picnics across the UK this summer, where I'll be romping around in our new Plymouth Shorts and delightful blouses
 
There is also a great mix of textures (both in store and on screen). Tweedy skirts, fresh cottons and linens, and silky chiffon blouses and dresses all appear. What I also enjoy about this era is there is a choice of silhouettes. Likewise the prints range from delicate florals to bold geometrics. Mulligan's character, Edith Pretty, probably portrays this best. Her outfits reflect the diverse aspects of her personality she chooses to exhibit. 
 
Bold print Mulligan
(You know we love perfect cuff and sleeve!)
 
Whilst my capsule wardrobe is currently two pairs of joggers and three woolly jumpers, I look forward to playing with clothes once more. The snow is melting and Spring will soon be here. Whether we can be as free as we like, I at least look forward to green grass and blue skies. Perhaps a few more walks with friends. And when it does, I'll be embracing all the prints and knits I can!
 
But for now, I'll keep cocooned. If watching a film about archaeologists scraping through the mud can teach us anything, it's that patience really is a virtue. 
 
Charlie Vero-Martin
 
For more info about the history behind The Dig, visit the National Trust site here.

Charlie Martin

Author


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