Common Sense Champion: James Dreyfus

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Mark Lehain
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This week’s Common Sense Champion is actor James Dreyfus. He is someone who makes us laugh, smile, and gasp in equal measures as he goes about saying what he thinks about issues with just the right mix of evidence, assertiveness, and humour.

Most people will know of James through his various acting roles over the years – including Constable Goody in The Thin Blue Line, Tom in Gimme Gimme Gimme, and Reverend Roger in Mount Pleasant. 

However, it is for wading into the debates around on identity politics that we want to recognise James for.

In recent times he has become an increasingly vocal critic of some of the more extreme tactics adopted by transgender rights activists. He’s also spoken about the “moral responsibility of the artist” at the Battle of Ideas festival.

In 2018 he put his name to a letter published in The Times that criticised Stonewall’s attempts to shut down any debate around transgender issues on the grounds that any discussion was “transphobic”. He also came out in support of JK Rowling when she was accused of transphobia for her statement last year, both through ongoing statements online and by signing another letter in her defence.

More recently he made the press when he took issue with comments made by Russell T Davies, one of British TV’s top talents, creator of Queer As Folk, saviour of Doctor Who, and the man behind the current smash hit It’s A Sin.

Davies said in an interview to promote It’s A Sin:

“I’m not being woke about this… but I feel strongly that if I cast someone in a story, I am casting them to act as a lover, or an enemy, or someone on drugs or a criminal or a saint… they are not there to ‘act gay’ because ‘acting gay’ is a bunch of codes for a performance. It’s about authenticity, the taste of 2020.

“You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places,” 

The idea of restricting roles to actors who share key characteristics in real life was too much for James:

The way in which he challenged the prevailing views was brave, especially given how woke the arts world has become. He simply pointed out that acting was about, er, playing roles in a convincing way, and that the personal attributes of the actor weren’t relevant if they could be convincing

Given the flack that super-connected billionaire JK Rowling got for her modest and measured comments, for someone like James to challenge the trans lobby AND publicly state that ID politics should be kept away from the creative sectors is…. well, really quite something!

There has been a backlash. It may cost him future work. But it hasn’t stopped him plugging away at things, even in the face of coordinated attacks on social media. It would be understandable if he opted for the quiet life, and maybe he will at some point in the future – but for now we are lucky to have him making the case for tolerance and liberalism in his own unique way.

And it is for this that we think he is a very worthy addition to our pantheon of Common Sense Champions.

Mark Lehain


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