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Play It Again, Tim — British drama digs deep; plus: Hamburger Helper haiku and news on Beatles class

Tim Miller
Written by Tim Miller
Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes in "The Dig." (Netflix)

Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes in “The Dig.” (Netflix)

Some moviegoers might take issue with the structure of “The Dig” (rated PG-13, 112 minutes, available on Netflix). An hour into the story, the film shoots off in another direction, muddling the proceedings to a degree. But that doesn’t prevent it from being a profound, beautiful movie.

Based on a true story involving a historic excavation in 1939 Suffolk, England, this deliberately paced drama begins with wealthy widow Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hiring gruff, self-taught expert Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to unearth what’s under several large mounds on her rural property.

What he finds is a big deal.

Suddenly, a group of established archaeologists arrive, nudging Basil aside with the intention of claiming, among other things, credit for the find and the prestige that comes with it.

At this point, the emphasis of “The Dig” largely shifts from the excavation to the romantic issues of Peggy Piggott (Lily James), a young archaeologist. It soon becomes obvious that her husband, Stuart (Ben Chaplin), also working on the dig, has no physical desire for her, and, in fact, appears repulsed by the idea of sleeping with her. Meanwhile, she’s attracted to Edith’s charismatic photographer cousin, Rory (Johnny Flynn), and he to her.

This romantic triangle seems an obvious attempt to add some oomph to the film, and it does. It also makes “The Dig” seem like two stories patched together.

And yet, given what the film does offer, whatever flaws it has almost seem irrelevant.

Watching such fine actors as Fiennes and Mulligan working together is a great privilege; they’re both outstanding. And James is such an engaging presence that the screen seems to brighten every time she appears on it.

The film, directed by Simon Stone, written by Moira Buffini and based on a novel by John Preston, also considers the ongoing blend and impact of the past, present and future in our lives.

Lily James in "The Dig." (Netflix)

Lily James in “The Dig.” (Netflix)

The dig itself is an obvious metaphor for the power of the past; but that power also is evident in Edith’s memories of her late husband, and in the discussions of Edith and Basil about their childhood interests and experiences in archaeology. The present involves their characters’ current circumstances: Basil working on the excavation; Edith struggling with a life-threatening illness while trying to take care of her young son; Peggy coming to terms with her marriage; Rory preparing to join the war effort against Germany. The future is considered as concerns emerge about who will take ownership of the discoveries from the dig and who will receive credit for finding them, along with how all of the other circumstances play out.

Of course, the past, present and future also merge as we watch a new movie set in 1939 and wonder not only how the story will unfold, but what life beyond the story holds for its characters (many, but not all, based on real people), or even how the film will be received by moviegoers. And that gets us to wonder about our own lives: how our pasts stay with us; where we are at present; what the future holds; how we will be remembered.

Rarely has a movie made me this aware of the nature of time, leaving me almost breathless at, and grateful for, the enormity of it all. *** 1/2

Bad haiku

I’ve been on a haiku kick lately — at least, my idea of haiku. These passionate works don’t have anything to do with movies (though maybe I should try reviewing films in haiku!). Still, I’d like to share them if the Wave editor allows it. (If you’re reading this, he did.) See if you can find a common theme:


Virginity Lost as Love Blooms (Jan. 1, 2021)

Barbecue sauce tears

Stream down, dark rivers of joy,

First McRib ever


Chicken Patties, How I Love Thee (Jan. 18, 2021)

Oh, chicken patties

They leave my heart aflutter

They’re great with mayo


Shattered Dreams (Jan. 18, 2021)

Hamburger Helper

Wife refuses to make it

Ruins my birthday


Life Is Good (Jan. 31, 2021)

Cheez-It sale today

Two boxes for price of one

Double Nirvana


Thank you. Thank you very much.

More shameless self-promotion (Will it ever end?)

Beatles and movies. Can it get any better?

Starting March 2, music producer Tony Raine and I, co-hosts of “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” on WOMR-FM, will present “The Beatles Go to the Movies,” an eight-week course at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, 307 Old Main St., South Yarmouth.

The course, to be held from 6 to 9 p.m. for eight consecutive Tuesdays, will trace the history of the Beatles, while each week focusing on one related movie. Among the films scheduled to be screened: “Backbeat,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help!” “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Let It Be,” “The Concert for Bangladesh” and “Imagine.”

Tony is the longtime manager at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis. He also has presented concerts and music series featuring Ray Davies of the Kinks, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds and many other luminaries; has served as tour manager for Carlene Carter; and has managed several acts, including Siobhan Magnus. A native of Northern England, he has conducted Beatles tours in Liverpool and London. He knows his stuff — and has a hilarious dry sense of humor to boot.

Class size is limited, so reservations are required in advance at or by calling 508-394-7100. The course is $250 for members of the cultural center and $280 for nonmembers. CDC protocols, including distanced table seating and mask wearing, will be in effect. The classes are intended to be informal and fun; everyone should feel free to bring their own refreshments.

– Please like Cape Cod Wave on Facebook.

Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and music producer Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and Archived recordings of the shows can be found at He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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