Atrocious accents a TV turnoff

By Paul Ainsworth

THE Belfast accent has its advantages, of that there can be no doubt. Mainly (and I’m referring to us blokes here) its gruff power lies in its ability to attract the interest of impressionable women of a foreign persuasion.

Show me a Belfast man who hasn’t loudly exaggerated his tones while on holiday in a bid to pique the curiosity of the locals, and I’ll show you a fool who’s missed a golden opportunity!

Sadly though, that’s more or less it, and one thing the local brogue certainly doesn’t do is translate well to TV or film.

There’s nothing as cringing as hearing our dialect woodenly wielded in soaps, dramas or movies.

The Catch 22 is that if an actor speaks completely naturally in a Belfast accent, he would be unintelligible to the average viewer, from, say, across the water in Britain – but if pronouncing words like a proper ac-tor, the accent sounds false, and can make even the best local thespian sound like a cyborg from somewhere wealthy in North Down.

This may explain the (until very recently) stark lack of any local TV dramas, and to be frank, that was fine by me. Now, however, we have something called “Six Degrees” foisted upon us from BBC NI, a student drama set right here in South Belfast.

When I first saw the advert, with it’s Rihanna ‘We Found Love’ soundtrack, I broke out in a cold sweat.

Hearing that godforsaken tune, which the rest of the planet got sick of long ago, I just knew we were in for some stinking local “acting”.

For some pathetic reason, a few NI media luvvies have a sort of pride of ownership over this tune, simply because the frankly ludicrous video was filmed on these shores.

Here’s the painful truth, however, the song is not about Belfast, and the video was only filmed here because Rihanna had time to kill between overpriced gigs. That’s it!

Do you even think she really knew where the heck she was?

So with the clunky metaphor of students finding love “in a hopeless place” out of the way, the trailer treated us to a snippet of dialogue which literally had me chewing my knuckles in frustration – something about Belfast being a place where it’s hard to be the person you are trying hard not to be, or some pompous tripe that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Rathmore Grammar sixth form drama project (trust me, I’d know).

And all delivered in shockingly unreal ‘local’ accents – I never thought I’d say this but I’ll take new episodes of ‘Give My Head Peace’ over this dramatic dirge any day.

Besides the tragic acting, there’s also the subject matter that exposes the clear lack of original thought.

A drama about students… hmmm, where have I seen that done to death before? (Clue: Channel 4, 6.30pm, weekdays).

Of all the subject matter in the world, those with the incredible opportunity of creating a TV show decided that the most challenging, interesting subject matter for a thought-provoking Belfast drama was a bunch of spoilt undergrads crying into their pound-fifty pints about who was groping who behind who’s back at the Students Union foam party.

Face it, Belfast, and the rest of the North is good for one thing only drama wise, and that’s to be used as a scenic backdrop for real, well-written, thought out drama, such as HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’, produced by Americans or Brits.

Even our best local actors, including Ciaran Hinds and Kenneth Branagh are at the top of their game when performing in accents other than their own.

Speaking of the fantastic Ciaran Hinds, I’ll finish by giving a nod to recent Oscar winning short film, ‘The Shore’ directed by our own Terry George.

Now I haven’t seen this film precisely because of my fear of accent overkill, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

If George has truly managed to tame the North’s ugly tongue, and find a real use for it on screen without sounding forced, then appoint him head of drama commissioning at BBC NI immediately, and spare us the creeping dread of future local TV travesties.

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