Dylan Wyn Williams
On a cold dark October eve, armed with a cuppa and feet up, I was ready for a rare creature on the box. A Wales-set drama shown across the UK.
No, not the one with Eve Myles and the irritating soundtrack. Rather, an emotionally charged four-parter about a community coming to terms with an industrial accident, and the families cry for justice as per Aber-fan, Zeebrugge, Grenfell.
I had already written a mostly positive piece about The Accident to the Welsh-language weekly Golwg and urged my friends and colleagues to tune in. Half an hour later, my tea was still untouched.
I felt uneasy. Baffled. This wasn’t the same drama I saw at the London preview. My WhatsApp jingled: “Hmmm. Not feeling it so far, Dyl!!” Others were conspicuous in their silence. I was embarrassed. Had I recommended a turkey?
On second viewing, the quibbles that niggled me at the première became clearer. The google-translated banner at the St David’s Day Fun Run (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant – Rhedeg). The wince-inducing “boyo” spoken by Kai Owen’s character. The rescuers venturing into the ruins with a sparking grinder despite fears of a gas leak. The solemn crowd’s “Abide with Me”, whereas the clichéd Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer would’ve rung truer.
And the accents. Mowredd, those accents. The twitteratis were tamping.
— Tomos Williams (@TomosWilliams1) October 24, 2019
Rewind to the end of September, and to the official launch in Soho (free coffee and croissants obligatory, air kisses not). Most of the cast in situ (Sarah Lancashire! Sidse Babett Knudsen of Borgen fame!) the camera made good use of the Rhondda Fach, Blaengarw and Fochriw locations, the CGI explosion racking up the tension, that shocking domestic violence scene, the crew’s obvious warmth towards the locals.
As the Executive Producer George Ormond said:
“This is our second production based in Wales – our first was Kiri, also by Jack Thorne… Jack is also half Welsh and we knew from the off that The Accident would be set in a small valleys town.”
Jack Thorne, the Bristolian behind the Channel 4 trilogy examining the themes of guilt, blame, responsibility and culpability in modern Britain. I was eagerly awaiting a series in which my country didn’t pretend to be Holby city, planet Gallifrey or something or other with dӕmons.
It’s a crying shame that The Accident consists of outsiders pretending to be Welsh plus a plethora of English lawyers from the Alun Cairns school of casting. BAFTA-laden Sarah Lancashire from Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax confessed that the accent was testing:
“I did a lot of work on it. A lot. It was really challenging. It was awful. In fact, we started filming this in April and just to give you an indication of how long it took me, I had my Christmas dinner speaking in a Welsh accent as I started last November.”
Not that she had much say in the matter, as Jack Thorne explained:
“… I wrote it with her in mind and once it was finished I sent it to her and held my breath and thankfully she said yes.”
It could have been worse. As in a Monica Dolan kind-of-worse, with her comedy Leanne Wood-cum-Indian accent in W1A or Tom Hardy’s baffling Locke. And lest we forget the Irish American How Green Was My Valley (1941).
But it could and should have been so, so much better. The scenes between Harriet Paulsen (Sidse Babett) and her wooden PR toyboy are pretty excruciating. And it’s not as if we’re a dearth of actors. S4C has just celebrated its 37th year, and many of its alumnus have found worldwide fame. Less ‘praise the lord! we are a musical nation’, more of a nation of fantastic bilingual performers.
Think Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones), Erin Richards (Gotham City), Rhys Ifans (Official Secrets) and Matthew Rhys (The Americans and the new Perry Mason for HBO) who surprised his US fans last year after accepting his Emmy award in his native accent.
And yet, here we are in 2019, with London drama commissioners (or soon-to-be-Leeds in Channel 4’s case) ignoring our homegrown talent, apart from the excellent Jade Croot of Merthyr. Eiry Thomas has been criminally underused as the grieving single mam too.
Despite all its faults, I’m still watching, along with 2 million others. Mostly mesmerized by the performances of deaf actress Genevieve Barr and Lancashire, and seeing how the court scenes plays out.
But on the whole, a disappointing case of nid da lle gellir gwell.