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Acting dynasties are ruining TV

The arts in Britain have become an edifice almost as hereditary as the monarchy itself.  

November 23, 2021 - 6:12pm

Pity the producers of The Crown. They went to all the effort of a “nationwide search” for a young actor to play Prince William in the new series, only to announce last week they had alighted on 13-year-old Senan West, the son of actor Dominic West.

The fact that Dominic himself will play Senan’s on-screen father, Prince Charles, is a perfect illustration of how the arts in Britain have become an edifice almost as hereditary as the monarchy itself.  

This sort of bad luck seems to plague the makers of Britain’s top films and TV shows. Think back exactly 20 years to the first Harry Potter film, when filmmakers were searching across the UK for a child to shoot to stardom as the boy wizard.

But while kids with no connection to the industry were queueing up at “open auditions”, Jack Whitehall (later to become a TV star) was given a one-to-one thanks to his father (a theatrical agent who knew the producer’s mother). Even with such special treatment, he missed out, the part eventually going to Daniel Radcliffe, the son of, you guessed it, a casting agent. 

One might have hoped an American incomer like Netflix may have helped shake things up. But the streamer seems to love nothing more than a theatrical dynasty.

One of its biggest hits, Sex Education, was created by Laurie Nunn (the daughter of former National Theatre boss Sir Trevor Nunn, who was just 24 when she secured the commission). Its new series Maid stars Margaret Qualley playing the on-screen daughter of her real-life mother, Andie MacDowell. The title character of its animated Christmas extravaganza, Robin Robin, which launches this week, is voiced by a new child star, Bronte Carmichael (her actor parents starred alongside her in Christopher Robin).

It is with actors at the start of their careers that the problem appears to be most acute. Pick almost any production with a young cast and you’ll be sure to detect the phenomenon — less meritocracy, more nepotocracy.

Dominic West’s daughter Martha has already played his fictional daughter, in the BBC’s The Pursuit of Love. The film The Souvenir and its upcoming sequel see Tilda Swinton playing opposite her daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne. Meanwhile, though Micheál Richardson’s CV is rather sparse, he has managed to play the son of his father Liam Neeson’s characters in two films: Made in Italy and Cold Pursuit.

As this genetic conveyor belt rumbles on, young wannabes too stupid to have the right lineage find themselves locked out of the industry — and wondering if there is some hitherto undetected acting gene that can account for the trend.

For the lucky few, it is not just a plum role to enjoy alongside their school work. These are the ones who will make up the future lists of the richest and most influential people in the world.

Our thespians are often hailed as “brave” for opining on the progressive cause du jour and promoting empty buzzwords such as “justice” and “equality”. 

But there is one thing that would really take some courage — calling out the self-serving rot at the heart of their own industry.


Etan Smallman is a freelance journalist.

EtanSmallman

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William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago

As Micheal Richardson’s surname reminds us, he is also the son of the late Natasha. And Vanessa, the grand dame of British theatre and the supporter of various looney causes, is his granny. And Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson are his great-grandparents.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanessa_Redgrave

There must be a great comedy in there somewhere. A strident supporter of an extreme left wing party, probably dedicated in theory to total equality, is the matriarch of a hereditary dynasty. There would, of course, be a very prominent supporting role in this comedy for Gerry Healy, the old goat who was accused of bedding 26 female comrades in the party which Vanessa bankrolled. Amazingly no #Metoo zealots have pestered Vanessa.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workers_Revolutionary_Party_(UK)

Last edited 2 years ago by William Murphy
J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

The difficult cases are when these well-connected kids have talent. I think of Rebecca Hall, daughter of the famous theatre director Peter Hall. I’ve no doubt daddy’s connections greased the wheels for her early career, but she can surely act.
Just out of curiosity I googled Benedict Cumberbatch–ouch! The son of an actor and actress.
More power to Jodie Comer, a wonderful actress and daughter of a postman from Liverpool.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

And therein lies a huge problem – the U.K. industry (especially the BBC) wheeling out the same family faces endlessly – resulting in any programme not being about a new story/character – but being about the same old (semi-royalty) actor playing themselves yet again.
Who do new(sic) stories always end up in the wheeling out of(sic) Judy Dench yet again 


Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

It’s not a problem confined to the television industry through. You just have to look at the top jobs in the FTSE 100, almost none are held by people who grew up in poorer households.
Personally I believe meritocracy is largely nonsense. If we all had the exact same start in life and the exact same opportunities then fair enough, however it simply isn’t the case. You get a few who go on to better things than their beginnings (and a few that fall the other way) but by and large where you’re born is where you’ll finish regardless of your intelligence and work ethic

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Maybe that is why they are all so woke; to divert attention away from their privilege and to give them some sense of moral virtue to compensate for the fact that they do not deserve what they have

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago

I don’t doubt that has a large part to play in it. A company putting a rainbow flag on Twitter costs them nothing, whereas actually improving the lives of their staff by offering better pay and conditions means those at the top have to put their hand in their pocket

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

You can’t change it completely but at least technology has made it possible to swerve round some old ‘gatekeeping’. Just researching roles and contacting people is far more open. In the past doors were more than just bits of wood or metal. Jude the Obscure simply couldn’t enter an Oxford college- he loitered at the gate, never to walk through as a student. It has changed for many.

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago

Not uncommon for people to look after their own, or for jobs to run in families. Only doctors and undertakers don’t parade their virtue in quite the same way.

Andrew Mildinhall
Andrew Mildinhall
2 years ago

But how is this any different to how much of the UK works. It’s simply the so called ‘ establishment’ in a somewhat surprising guise. Yes theatrical types tend to espouse leftish ideologies and egalitarian principles but like a lot of Labour MPs they quickly forget these when matters are close to home. Nepotism rules alongside hypocrisy.

Angelique Todesco-Bond
Angelique Todesco-Bond
2 years ago

As someone who has a son who has gone from some of the above roles, but does not have the benefit of rich or famous parents, or friends in the business, I can from experience say is a very real problem and one which causes many of us a great deal of heartache knowing that they are working so hard for something that is becoming almost a fantasy.
He and many others he trains with have had more doors slammed in their faces at the tender age of 13 than the proverbial hot suppers. On the plus side they are developing a resilience of steel, which will serve them well amongst the current crop of very easily perturbed peers.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

It’s not surprising, children will have developed special talents and knowledge from their parents professions. Farmers from farmers, doctors so often the children of doctors, lawyers from lawyers, furniture makers from furniture makers. And so on. The offspring are almost bound to be good at what their parents have succeeded in, and know more than most how to climb the ladder.

I have no problem with actors doing the same, and the hypocrisy of leftie thesps criticising the hereditary principle whilst milking it for their own benefit adds an additional delight!

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

Well they couldn’t cut it in STEM careers could they, especially as they think something called ‘acting’ is actually in blood.

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
2 years ago

We have replaced the old establishment of the titled and landed with a new establishment of professional classes.
This is based on the post war meritocrats who have successfully created a hereditary structure that fosters their own.
It is not just the arts that have the new dynasties. Politics, industry, the professions are all populated by people who have advantages of family involvement and connections.
It has always been thus.