How one of Wales’ most prominent 19th century nationalists inspired Robert Downey Jr’s latest character

Left, William Price, a portrait from the Welsh Portrait Collection at the National Library of Wales. Right, Robert Downey Jr. picture by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Robert Downey Jr.’s latest acting role was inspired by one of the foremost Welsh nationalists of the 19th century, he has revealed.

Dr. William Price fought throughout the 19th century to promote Wales’ history, culture and language. The eccentric figure said that he believed himself to be the liberator of the Welsh language and people after receiving a prophecy while visiting Paris.

Robert Downey Jr. said he had found a picture of Dr. William Price and decided to base his titular character in the film Dolitte on the man.

“Before I signed on I was just googling ‘weirdest Welsh doctor’ and I just, I don’t want to think of – I don’t want to do just another English accent,” he told the Joe Rogan podcast.

“So there’s this guy, William Price, who is a nutty Welsh doctor. He was a neo-Druidist, he was someone who believed we could communicate with all nature and things like that.

“I sent a picture of this wild-looking guy wearing a suit with stars on it and like a staff in his hand – I sent that to Gaghan [the director] and he says ‘That looks right to me’.

“And I was like ‘Great, let’s do this movie’.”

 

Chartism

Dr. William Price set up a Druidic group which gained a number of followers and began carrying a staff engraved with figures and letters, wearing a fox-fur hat, emerald green clothing and grew his beard long.

He was however a widely respected figure, appointed medical advisor to the wealthy Crawshay family who owned the ironworks at Merthyr.

There he mixed with the likeminded Guest family who owned the ironworks at Dowlais, including the Mabinogion translator Lady Charlotte Guest.

He also become involved with the Chartist movement, supporting the idea that all men should have the right to vote, and helped the Chartists find weaponry for their protests.

“It’s always that thing that you click and you go ‘Here’s my sense, what do you think?’ and then the guy or gal says ‘Yeah, let’s lean into that’,” Robert Downey Jr. said.

“To me, I just thought, can Dolitte be like that? ‘Does he have to be like that the whole way through?’ I go ‘No, no, no, when they find him he’s a recluse and the animals like clean him up and he looks less un-handsome or – less wird for the kids for the rest of the movie. But let’s find him like that.”

Robert Dwoney Jr.’s Welsh accent in the film has however been criticised in some reviews, with the Guardian saying it sounded “dodgy”.

“His accent is unshakably jarring, sounding like a man born in Wales who then spent alternate weeks of his life in Sheffield,” reviewer Benjamin Lee said.

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RhosdduAnthony MitchellHuw DaviesElin HafJohn Daniel Recent comment authors
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jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

Very interesting. Accent no problem, as we have mutiple accents in Cymru. Even Cymraeg with scouse accent. That’s OK.

John Daniel
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John Daniel

To go back to a previous discussion on how the English change Welsh place names , One of them bought William Price’s house in Pontypridd and called it Little Puddleduck ,ignorance or contempt for Welsh history? probably both.

Elin Haf
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Elin Haf

Atrocious name such a shame. In my home area someone wanted to change the name of a lane where they lived because they could not pronounce it. It was in a village in a Welsh speaking area!! Arrogance.

Anthony Mitchell
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Anthony Mitchell

Just don’t acknowledge the English corruption of any Welsh place name. “I have no idea where Australia Lake is, in Australia maybe?” “I know a beautiful lake in Yr Wyddfa called Boch Llwyd though”.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

In the late 19th Century, tourism companies tried to replace Llyn Tegid with ‘Lake Pimblemere’, and published brochures that included that made-up name. Needless to say, nobody in Wales took any notice and the name died an ignominious death. So, ignoring non-Welsh imposed names works.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Am I the only one a bit peeved by the repeated misspelling of Dolittle? I actually checked to see if the film really was called Dolitte! Then the repeated use of a full stop after Robert Downey Jr as in, “Robert Dwoney Jr.’s Welsh accent…has been criticised…”. Did I mention misspelling the eponymous star player as Robert Dwoney Jr? How can Dr Price of Llantrisant be mentioned without referring to his baby son Iesu Grist and his court case where the Dr successfully argued that even though cremation was not legal, it wasn’t against the law either! He made cremation… Read more »