After the trailer for the Dolittle movie appeared recently, there was a lot of talk about the fact Downey Jr uses a Welsh accent for the main character.
I’ve now watched the promotional piece about 10 times, and I’m still none the wiser if he’s Welsh, or not.
But then again, Hollywood has struggled with the Welsh accent for decades.
‘They’re all Celts, aren’t they?’
If you go back to 1941 and the film of the novel How Green was My Valley, the accents are slapdash to say the least.
There are plenty of “look yous” and “isn’t it boyos” to keep the stereotype going, but most of the cast were Irish, or of Irish origin.
The director, John Ford, described himself as Irish-American and, when asked some years later why he didn’t employ real Welsh people rather than Irish, his blunt answer was: “They’re all Celts, aren’t they?”
Ever since, there have been plenty of shabby representations on the big screen. But why?
Well, because of its musical nature, the accent is difficult for an actor to master.
Although the root of the language is related to Irish, Welsh is more mysterious and hidden away (in the magical sense, of course).
And according to the language trainer Penny Dyer: “The Welsh language has the loosest intonation in the whole of the British Isles.”
Apparently, the only accent that’s almost as difficult for an actor to learn is Afrikaans – which perhaps explains why Julian Lewis-Jones did such a good job in Invictus… unlike Matt Damon.
But there have been plenty of films over the years that have featured very poor efforts by big stars to capture the mood of our language.
These include Colm Meaney in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain, who was shockingly poor, and William Hurt in Second Best, whose accent was a mixture of Merthyr, Mullingar and Mumbai.
And even Tom Hardy in Locke, although fair play to him – he was a lot closer to pulling off the accent than anyone else so far.
The trouble is, with the language under constant threat since the early 16th Century, us Welsh people are usually more sensitive when it comes to hearing someone making a complete mess of national accents (and rightly so).
But then again, we don’t hear our accent that often on the big screen, so nobody listens to the complaints.
If you go back a couple of years, you may remember Mickey Rourke wanted to make a film about the life of Gareth “Alfie” Thomas.