by Adam Clarke
Last week I had the pleasure of going to watch ‘Dolittle’, starring Robert Downey Jr as the famous doctor who can speak to animals. One thing which struck me about the film, and it wasn’t the paper-thin plot or quite ridiculous CGI, it was the fact that Downey Jr put on a Welsh accent to play the part. The fact is that no representation of Doctor Dolittle has ever been Welsh before, not in the 1920s novel by Hugh Lofting or in any previous cinematic adaptation, yet Downey Jr chose to play him as a Welshman. This made me think about how rare it is to hear Welsh accents in films and on TV, especially in big Hollywood productions. Whilst Scotland is strongly represented in popular culture from ‘Braveheart’ to Groundskeeper Willy, and Ireland also has a clear influence on films and TV on both sides of the Atlantic, it seems to me that Wales is somewhat underrepresented at the moment.
The fact is that many actors’ ‘Welshness’ is removed from their performances, with Welshmen such as Ioan Gruffudd (best known for playing Mr Fantastic) and Iwan Rheon (Ramsey Boulton in Game of Thrones) being given instructions to not only hide their accent, but to speak in a different one on screen. This seems bizarre to me, given that they are both playing fictional characters. Especially in the case of Game of Thrones where many regional accents of the UK are represented in the show and yet the actor’s natural Welsh accent is suppressed. Also it is not just the Welsh accent that is airbrushed from Hollywood, but many productions film in Wales and yet pretend it is somewhere else when it could easily be set in Wales. For example, Sex Education a popular show on Netflix and we are rightly proud that it is all filmed in Wales, and yet the show is set in a fictional village in England. Similarly, Cardiff has been used as a substitute for London on multiple occasions, for ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Doctor Who’ and yet rarely appears on screen as itself. I find it quite upsetting that filmmakers are loathed to set their productions in Wales, with Welsh characters and yet they’re happy to film them here.
Times are changing though and Wales is beginning to be represented more and more in big budget films. I can’t have been the only one shocked and pleasantly surprised when Brad Pitt found his way to the World Health Organisation facility in Cardiff in ‘World War Z’ and similarly Downey Jr’s decision to base his characterisation of Dr Dolittle on a Welsh druid from Llantrisant is refreshing for those of us who wish to see more of Wales on our screens. It doesn’t always go well however, Tom Hardy’s attempt at a Welsh accent in ‘Locke’ is somewhat wide of the mark, sounding a bit more like Fireman Sam than Richard Burton but it is a sign that script writers and directors are happy to represent Wales on the big screen. Obviously in Britain, Wales has had a bigger impact from ‘Gavin and Stacey’ to ‘The Accident’ but it is only in the last decade or so that Wales is making an impact globally. In my opinion, this is long overdue, and long may it continue.