Clearer, please

Not so much about writing this week, but what happens to our words once we’ve written them – mostly for screenwriters.

There was a lavish adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn on the BBC this week. Unfortunately, it quickly became notorious. Not for risqué scenes, but because a lot of people watching it could not understand a word the actors were saying.

I watched some of it myself, and I have to admit, I could not understand a lot of it. Not only did the actors mumble, but they had very strong accents.

Now, I do understand that the old tradition of actors speaking RP (Received Pronunciation, the old drama school accent of 40s movies) whilst supposedly playing Yorkshire working lads or Scottish maids was a bit ridiculous. It did, however, have an advantage – the audience could understand every word.

The modern style of strong accents, slurred and mumbled, may be more accurate, but it often leaves audiences wondering what has been said. This must be dreadfully frustrating for the writers. It’s no use writing beautiful words if no-one hears them. What’s the point of crafting a wonderfully complex plot if no-one knows what’s going on?

I played an American in a recent play (I’m English, so I had to fake a Deep South accent). My director was very clear – my vocal priority was to be understood, the accent came second. I wish the same rules would apply to TV dramas.

Directors and producers and actors – we write these words for you. Will you please do your best to make sure our words are understood by the audience? Otherwise, you might just as we’ll put on a mime show.


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