I have a thing about accents, in general, and their use in period movies, specifically. I am fascinated by what we are able to suspend our disbelief about and what we cannot seem to get over in this area. For instance, as the title of this post suggests, we have Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Does he sound either Spanish or Roman? Well, actually, I have no idea. I haven’t the foggiest idea what the ancient Roman accent sounds like, but why default to something British? Is it Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar we have to blame? I, Claudius? Or is it that some form of British accent sounds classier, more timeless, or just more appropriate? Or is that a lot of good actors happen to be British? I don’t really know. Maybe good acting is associated with the Bard and his accent is emulated.
On the otherhand, I’ve heard that the English during Shakespeare’s time did not sound like the modern British accents (for all you Scots, Welsh, and shit…I don’t know…Liverpoolipaneans whom complain that there is no one British accent but a myriad collection of different ways of speaking that sound cooler than me). So Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Laurence Olivier, while amazing, are no more accurate than any other person’s accent.
But what do many people think when they hear Tom Cruise in Valkyrie or Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It sounds phoney or stupid or just plain wrong. But many rarely would complain if that accent was British, like in Schindler’s List. Not all wrong accents are created equal. Just ask Brad Pitt, an American who used a quasi-English accent in Troy so he could sound like…someone from ancient Greece, I guess?
But that’s just about what you’re used to. British accents sound right for many period pieces because they are often used in them. So Michael Fassbender in Centurion sounds fine but Channing Tatum in The Eagle sounds ridiculous. Fair enough, I guess. I have a bigger problem when accents are not consistent within one movie. The worst offender is the post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Man in the Iron Mask. It’s set in France but we have an DiCaprio (American) as the king but also Gabriel Byrnes (British) and Jeremy Irons (British), Gerard Depardieu (super French yet kinda Russian now) and John Malkovich (Martian) as the former musketeers. Hearing these “French” dudes talk about their duty to their country and what not is hard to buy when they can’t decide what country they come from.
Maybe it’s just me.