The Dai is Cast

All novelists have a secret fantasy.

Actually, it’s not terribly secret. It’s the cast list.

Yes, admit it, my fellow authors, you know what I’m talking about. That cast list. The one for the film of your book – the lavish Hollywood spectacular or BBC mini-series based on our purple prose, the prize that we all dream about. The films and series that will never, ever, get made, unless our names are… Well, you know who I’m talking about, although I should emphasise that this post was in no way inspired by the arrival on our TV screens of yet another historical epic – cum – soap opera, a veritable Dallas with codpieces, namely the BBC’s adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen. By coincidence, I provided a checklist for assessing such offerings a few weeks ago, so let’s see how this measures up –

  • Impossibly attractive people with unfeasibly perfect teeth – check
  • People in the past having truly phenomenal amounts of vigorous sex – check
  • People in the past thinking and talking exactly like we do – check
  • All past events accompanied by an incessant orchestral soundtrack. – Actually, The White Queen isn’t too bad on this count; instead, it’s most noticeable quirk is that it was filmed in Belgium, principally in nice but oddly unsuitable Belgian buildings that have rather too many obviously modern windows. (Downton Abbey anachronism pedants, eat your hearts out.)
  • Battles usually fought by about the same numbers of people who can be found brawling outside an average British pub on a Saturday night. – The White Queen seems to have got round this by not having any battles, or at least, not in the first episode, which is all I’ve seen so far. Now you can call me a reactionary old fuddy-duddy, but having a major series about the Wars of the Roses, one of the bloodiest civil wars in British history, without any fighting in it at all, does seem to be taking revisionism just a little too far.

But to return to my original point. Like everybody else, I’ve sometimes speculated idly on who might be cast to play my characters if the books ever got filmed. This is dangerous territory, because every reader will have their own image of each character in their mind’s eye, and, no doubt, each reader will have their own opinion about who should be cast in which part. (I’d love to hear your suggestions!) But I hope I won’t shatter too many people’s perceptions of the characters by putting forward a few of my own ideas. Matthew Quinton would have to be young and tall – although let’s face it, if the vertically challenged Tom Cruise can be cast as seven-foot-something Jack Reacher, anything’s possible. (Similarly, before Master and Commander was made, I doubt if Russell Crowe would have featured on many Patrick O’Brian afficionados’ wish lists of actors suitable to play Jack Aubrey.) Purely on grounds of nepotism, I’d be tempted to cast Jeremy Irvine of War Horse fame; I taught him, albeit only briefly, but then again, I also taught the guy who discovered Coldplay (it was that sort of a school). Whoever plays Francis Gale would have to convey a mixture of pathos, piety and ferocity, so maybe the likes of Hugh Jackman, while Phineas Musk would need to be of fairly indeterminate middle age, bald, and capable of random violence, so perhaps Timothy Spall or Ray Winstone.

And then, of course, we’d come to the 64,000 dollar question in every film set in the Restoration period – who could play Charles II? The king’s face is so firmly imprinted in many people’s consciousness that one can’t take too many liberties with physical appearance (sorry this time, then, Tom Cruise), but the part also requires an actor good enough to convey the many enigmatic sides to the king’s personality. In the last twenty years or so, there have been some triumphant castings – notably Sam Neill in Restoration and Rufus Sewell in the BBC’s The Power and the Passion – and the odd disaster (i.e. John Malkovich in The Libertine, which was a very odd disaster indeed). But the fact is that at the time when Gentleman Captain is set, Charles II was thirty-two years old, so ideally he should be played by an actor much younger than those normally cast in the part. Tall, distinctive features, thirtysomething…hmm, maybe Matt Smith will need something to do after he steps down as Dr Who?


When this post goes ‘live’, we’ll be hacking up the A1 for a well-earned break in Northumberland (well, OK, Wendy will be having the well-earned break…). There’ll be some walking, some heritage sites, plenty of reading in the evenings*, and in my case, hopefully some serious thinking about both new and Quinton-related ideas. One thing there won’t be where we’re staying, though, is broadband, so tweets etc are likely to be few and far between, and there won’t be a new post here next week, when we’ll be hacking back down the A1!

(* In my case, Melvyn Bragg’s Credo, which is set in the area in the seventh century; it’s some 750 pages long, so I might be quite some time on this one!)


Finally, in case anybody was wondering, the title of today’s post is the punchline of an old Welsh joke… ‘Notice on theatre door – “The part of the Welshman has been filled. The Dai is cast.’


  1. glr7 says:

    Hi David,
    Have you ever played the same game, but if it was possible to transcend space-and-time? For instance, in the midst of PhD research/thinking about anything else (it happens on occasion), I recently came to the conclusion that if I could transcend space and time, I’d cast a young Jack Lemmon as me in the biopic of my life. I’d ask him not to change accent or costume, just for the fun and pure surrealism of having Jack Lemmon debating with my friends Aled and Marc about who should be in the Scarlets back-row, circa 2002. Aled and Marc would be played by themselves, and the film shot on location at the Mason’s Arms, Thomas Street.

    Retelling this thought also allows me to pinpoint the exact moment at which I lost my marbles. Anyway, back to the books.

    Enjoyed the blog post- I’d also suggest Sam Rockwell as a ‘bolter’ (to use rugby punditry language) for Quinton. After seeing Moon (ok, quite a different setting) I decided that he could act in anything and it would be brilliant.

    Enjoy the break,


  2. I thought the theme of The White Queen and the other books on which the TV series is based, is that it is history from the woman’s point of view. Therefore no battles, but lots of sitting around waiting for the “result”. Convenient for the makers, though.


%d bloggers like this: