by Etan Smallman
Tuesday, 23
November 2021

Acting dynasties are ruining TV

Casting for The Crown reminds us that success is born, not earned
by Etan Smallman
The arts in Britain have become an edifice almost as hereditary as the monarchy itself.  

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.

Join the discussion

  • 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.

  • 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 …

  • 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

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