Spoiler alert! This post contains many spoilers about the film, The Dig.
I read the book, The Dig, several years ago when my husband’s librarian-aunt lent it to me. She said it was a ‘gentle’ story and I remember thinking, ‘you’re not kidding’ as I found it, well, quite dull. I say this as a woman who loves a book where nothing happens. If you lend me a book you think I’ll like, you should probably make sure that not a lot happens.
So as we sat down to watch the new Netflix film, The Dig, I was intrigued as to why it’s been so popular. A fantastic cast, yes, but I distinctly remember the lack of things happening. Unless of course you count the astonishing and groundbreaking archaeological discovery. But does your average Netflix viewer really care about that? I wondered.
I warned my husband that nothing really happens other than them discovering a big ancient ship under the ground. He said I’d ruined it for him. I said that in the first line they’d already mentioned ‘Sutton Hoo’ and that this was a famous archaeological site. He said I only knew that because I’d read the book and could I name any other famous archaeological sites? He’d got me there.
This is a story about a gentle woman, Edith Pretty, and a (mostly) gentle team of excavators and archaeologists who discover Anglo Saxon treasure. This treasure could have made the owner of the site, Mrs Pretty, very rich. But she gave the treasure, as a gift, to the British Museum, so that people from all over Britain, and the world, could see it. She gave her treasure for the common good. (She was offered a CBE for this by Winston Churchill but declined.)
And this is all set in 1939, when people are getting ready to give their lives for the common good. Men are volunteering to fight for King and Country. This was an era in which people did their duty, and they saw the beauty in that. The wives were waving their husbands off and would in the coming years do their duty for their country in many ways. Some would leave the dutiful work in their homes to go into the fields and work the land so that the nation wouldn’t starve. For some this involved catching rats. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be at home, cleaning and listening to the wireless. But they did it for the common good. (Some of the women would also go to France and blow up bridges but I don’t think we’re supposed to talk about that, really.)
This film, with its fabulous cast and eerily stunning landscapes, was not made in the 1930s. Or 1940s. It was made in this era, and as such it reflects the values that our 21st Century society holds dear. It crowbars them in. It spoon-feeds the viewer that truly, what we should all be doing, is following our hearts. Forget duty, forget marriage vows, forget the common good. You only live once.
Carey Mulligan is fabulous. I saw her in a soft play once (boy, was that an exciting day) and she seemed like a really lovely person. (I don’t mean a play that was ‘soft’ but rather a soft play area, for children.) Her character, the one who gave her priceless treasure away, is the one who utters the line to Peggy Piggott: ‘Life is very fleeting. It has moments you should seize.” I suppose this seems innocuous, but in the context it isn’t.
Lily James is very talented. I loved her in ‘Their Darkest Hour.’ In the book, her character, Peggy Piggott, and her husband Stuart join the dig and Peggy is the first to discover gold in the ship. In real life, the couple divorced in 1956. In the film, presumably to spice things up for the modern audience, Stuart is clearly very attracted to a male member of the team and Peggy fancies a handsome RAF pilot. When she confronts her husband about his homosexuality, she refers to it as ‘beautiful.’ Even today, I’m not sure that a woman who finds her husband committing adultery would consider this beautiful. I’m no historian but I’m almost certain that she wouldn’t have said this in the 1930s.
In the 1930s, most people didn’t tell each other to be true to themselves and to follow their hearts. They made sacrifices, they kept calm and carried on and they did their duty. They gave away their treasure for the common good. Perhaps the makers of the film thought that we just wouldn’t get that. Maybe they thought we wouldn’t cope with all of that self-sacrifice. Or perhaps they thought we’d just find it a bit boring.
So why should I care about all this? Does it matter that they ruined a perfectly good, albeit gentle, historical novel? At least we got to see Ralph Fiennes and Ken Stott on our screens again.
In some ways it’s not something to get upset about. But it was a reminder to me that stories are powerful. Through stories, we’re taught what to think, feel and believe. And in the same way, our children are indoctrinated. So we need to be aware of this.
The Lord says, ‘value others above yourselves.’ (Philippians 2) We live to bless and serve others. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives (Mark 8) and in doing so we receive life. And he definitely, absolutely wants us keep our marriage vows (Mark 10). We know from God’s word that the heart is deceitful above all things. Following our hearts is a road to destruction.
And another thing. The world’s doctrine is inconsistent. (I know, I’m really on a rant now. I probably won’t even publish this post.) This culture which has told us to listen to our hearts and be true to ourselves has, for the past year, told us to sacrifice our own desires for the common good. We’ve been told to delay gratification and to set aside our own pleasure for the sake of others – especially for the sake of the vulnerable. “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.” At the very least, the world is confused.
Every time I hear a song on the radio that reminds me of my family, I want to go and see them. It could be ‘Can you dig it?’ by The Mock Turtles. Yesterday it was Peter Gabriel, ‘Sledgehammer.’ But I don’t. Not just because I would probably be fined, but because I’m doing my duty. Duty is scorned by our culture, but perhaps in the past year some people, by God’s grace, have seen the beauty of it.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12.1-2