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The BBC’s Quirke, Jamaica Inn and Speaking Clearly

The BBC has received a larger than normal number of complaints from viewers who can’t hear the actors’ “mumbled” lines in Quirke, the BBC Drama starring Gabriel Byrne.  It’s an excellent drama and I can hear every word.  Is it perhaps because some viewers aren’t able to tune in to that particular 1950s Dublin accent?  The film Noir quality of the production means that it would be hard to lip read the actors and perhaps that is part of the problem for some viewers.
I find the Dublin accent is slight, as it is supposed to be the upper classes and I’ve only detected a couple of Belfast sounding diphthongs “ear” and “air” that Michael Gambon’s and Gabriel Byrnes’ characters come out with occasionally, that may confuse some English speaking listeners by changing the rhythm of the sound.  Did Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall confuse people because of the rhythm of their American English?  I find it adds to the concept of the whole production.  When dialect coaching on productions, I’ve always been asked to keep the accent within the limits of easy to understand English.  It’s one of the factors that make the job more challenging and therefore interesting.  The acting in Quirke is so good it’s hard not to be glued to the action when you’re watching it.  If you’re peeling the spuds at the same time, you’re likely to get lost.  Andrew Davies, who adapted Benjamin Black’s books for the TV, has every right to watch the sub-titles.  I agree that there was some misinformed acting in Jamaica Inn which resulted in not being able to understand the words of one of the principle actors.  Perhaps this was more to do with the Production team.  Ben Stephenson, head of drama commissioning at the BBC has said that part of the problem was down to actors failing to speak clearly.
Michael Gambon and Gabriel Byrne


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