Picking at the bloated carcass of geek culture...occasionally!!!

An Australian Guy Using an English Accent to Portray a Spanish general in the Roman army

In Movies on January 23, 2013 at 11:40 pm

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?

I love how Costner gets slammed for his accent but gets a pass on the mullet. I mean, check out that ape drape.

I love how Costner gets slammed for his accent but gets a pass on the mullet. I mean, check out that ape drape.

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.

  1. This post is definitely making me want to dig into watching some mediocre period movies. I went on an errand with Lacy to feed a cat at the home of her nanny family (The Sheffield estate to her Fran Dresher) Well, these swanky well to do folks had a suuuuper hi-def (maybe 3d? I don’t understand current televisual technology) and since they were out of town we decided to try and partake of their billons of cable channels.
    First I was mostly confused by the strange effect hi-def televisions have on motion pictures. Instead of making it look more epic, it appears like modern popcorn movies are filmed with a digital camcorder. It had an even stranger effect on more dated movies like….Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. Now, I found this and was glued to my seat. I hadn’t watched it in years. But in the newfangled hi def screen, this major movie event of 1990 looked liiiiiiiikeeee…those old BBC chronicles of narnia mini series? An episode of the tomorrow people? It looked BUDGE, but kind of in a good way, whereas get me to the greek made it appear as if russell brand was in the room with me, making me want to hide behind the ficus.
    What does this have to do with your post?
    Not a lot, only I love me some terribly accented Robin Hood every once in a while. Alan Rickman and Brian Blessed make up for a lot.

  2. I personally had a major problem with Tom Hulce’s American accent in Amadeus, I want so badly to like the movie, but the accent puts me off every time….

  3. Ape drape! never heard that term before. love it.
    Its funny though, whenever an american actor tries to do a british or any non american accent, they always get attacked for it (its usually bad and even when its decent- i find more distracting oddly enough) I wonder if brits have the same issue?
    I guess they all would of been speaking latin in gladiator?

    classic dracula keanu – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=113XaZpybqs

    i am still waiting for someone to tackle the – we never have to go to the bathroom in movies logic. Or why everytime we see a horse, cat, dog, etc, they always have to add their “sound”

    btw the hi-def effect is the worse. 48/ hfr can suck it as well.
    to the trees!

  4. Well, yes they would have spoken Latin. But they were not speaking Latin, so if you were going to replace the accent, why go British. Neither Russell Crowe nor Joaquin Phoenix are British. Connie Nielsen is Danish. You go British because that what you do for Roman movies. Just don’t tell Kirk Douglas.

  5. Tom Hulce in Amadeus is a perfect example. It was set in Vienna, right? But his American accent sounded so foreign while British ones did not. British accents are perfect pan-European accents for Americans like me. I wonder what Europeans think?

  6. Amadeus is indeed a good example- all kinds of european and american actors with a range of european to american accents. Oddly enough, Hulce never bugged me(though i was aware) as i guess it fit his character and i was so immersed in that awesome movie. Even the emperor (jeff jones) has an american accent. But i see how one can be distracted.
    I do feel that if its a movie that for example takes place in Russia, they all can speak english and no accents or british. its odd if some of the secondary characters have russian accents. But if its a movie where other countries come into play, then i agree all of them should have the accent from where they are from. So in Amadeus, Hulce should of had a german accent and F Murry should of had a more italian accent , then the ameribrit thing he had. But again i feel that would of been slightly distracting compared to all british. I dont why that is. I think it also is the star appeal/big names. big names sorta are distracting from the get go, as they come with established work and how they are on screen. Where as a not well known actor could get away with an accent. does that make sense? Or it could just come down to their acting skills -Daniel Day Lewis doing an american accent vs Colin Farrell(who i found to always be better in movies with his irish accent)

  7. Last weekend we watched Welcome to the Riley’s with James Gandolfini. His character is supposed to be from Indiana and he has southern accent that comes and goes as the movie goes on. Why he tries to have this accent in the first place is beyond me. Secondly it was the wrong type of accent for Indiana. An odd state from the Midwest with more of a country accent than a southern one.

  8. My favorite is Highlander, where the only actual Scottish actor with a main role portrays a Spaniard originally from Egypt with a Scottish accent.

  9. There’s a great movie called “the legend of Rita” about the German R.A.F. in the 70s. The director insisted that all of the East Germans be played by people who grew up in East Germany and vice versa, beyond the accent he believed that his actors wouldn’t know how to walk, how to wear their clothes, etc. I always thought this was an interesting idea.

    How regional can you get? Can someone from Iowa play someone from Minnesota? Most people wouldn’t know the difference, but I think I would. Jon?

    Also, in Promised Land Matt Damon explains that he was born and raised in Nebraska using his native Boston accent. Completely absurd if you’re from the midwest, totally missable if you’re from anywhere else.

  10. What do you guys think about bothering to use an accent instead of the actual language? Such as Harrison Ford’s K-19: The Widowmaker, where he’s speaking English with an unconvincing Russian accent.

    To Noah’s point, accents are incredibly important to the people from areas being portrayed and imperceptible to most others. Like I’ve read that Chow Yon Fat’s Crouching Tiger Mandarin wasn’t very good and I didn’t notice.

    Or that Antonio Banderas is a convincing Mexican. Oh wait…the opposite of that.

  11. Again, I still think it all comes down to the actor. A List stars come with preconceived ideas of how they speak, act and look. So if they are gonna do an accent, it better be flawless. Which of course will always be criticized by someone. I think its why a lot of the times alisters tend to avoid accents. (or they play to what noah said- most people would not know the difference)

    But my opinion is- a movie like fargo is a good example -for english/american based- all with correct accents.
    K-19- no accents since (if i remember correctly) no non russian speaking characters where in the movie and its assuming they are all speaking russian, in theory.
    amadeus- all with correct accents since the movie was made for an english speaking audience, about Austria
    Hunt for red october- all russians speak in russian when on their ship, but when around ammericans , they should have a russian accent. not a scottish.heh

    *Banderas- how many actors can say they played the same character twice and one in the form of a cat. he was born to play zorro n’ boots.

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