What Do You Think? (Accents in Films)

I am always fascinated by accents (or lack thereof) in films. On a related matter, I have read a lot about this week’s film release of One Day, which stars Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess and is directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education). David Nicholls adapted his best-selling novel for the screen. David Nicholls also wrote the novel and screenplay Starter For Ten. Although I did not read this novel, I did enjoy the film.

Now back to One Day. Much is being made about the success or failure of Anne Hathaway’s efforts at a Yorkshire (Leeds) accent. As a self-confessed Anglophile, I am able to distinguish between some (I repeat SOME) regional accents from the greater United Kingdom; but I am a far from an expert. I defer to folks who are from the area to make that distinction. However, based on a couple of clips I have seen of the movie, I am left a bit perplexed. To my ear, her voice is a bit “whispier” than in its American incarnation, but it does not sound too distinctly British, much less from the north of England.

The Guardian newspaper (UK) posted a pretty entertaining piece on their movie blog on the very subject. My personal favorite was listening to Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I say all this with the accepting that I can only imagine how challenging it is for actors to not only take on the challenge of embodying another character but to have that compounded with trying to master an accent foreign to them. I get occasionally and momentarily distracted when I hear non-Americans working to tackle the accent, especially when you get down to regions – notably the Northeast (Boston and New York). In spite of this, I have been able to enjoy the films even in light of being less-than-convinced by the accent that I hear (Emma Thompson in Dead Again immediately comes to mind).

The real question for people who have a problem with the accent, will this deter you from seeing the film? More generally, have you ever let your accent reservations affect your ability to enjoy a film?

Please share your comments below.

Comments

  1. GREAT topic!

    Yes, the accent is very important to me because it is part of the character. Can’t do the accent? Don’t do the role. That’s my thinking.

    You get no A for effort.

    I probably wouldn’t see this film anyway – I don’t think I’m its intended audience and besides, these sorts of films usually leave me either perplexed or uncaring.

    I never did see much of Kevin Costner’s ROBIN HOOD. I mean, you play Robin Hood, you gotta’ have the accent. No two ways about it. He is one of the quintessential English heroes.

    Horrible attempt at an American accent: the Hollywood agent/impresario in COLD COMFORT FARM. But I still love the movie cause he’s not a major MAJOR character.

    • @Yvette I see you have taken a hard line on this. I must confess that at moments, I play around with a British accent. I end up somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic 🙂
      I think this is mainly because I am trying to nail down the ever difficult regionally-specific accent. What a challenge!

  2. Accents aren’t something I pick up on too easily. I just don’t have the ear for it. I heard Tom Felton’s voice crack a little bit in Rise of the Apes, but I don’t get too bent out of shape unless it it becomes a peek-a-boo accent (there it is, now it isn’t).

    But at the same time, I can recognize when someone like Meryl Streep goes film to film, and throwing out a different (and required) accent every time. I mentioned just the other day how Titus Welliver (Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Sons of Anarchy) is sporting a different accent every time he pops up somewhere.

    • @Red I just think that some folks have the ear and are more adept at doing this than others. Definitely a gift or a skill. Actors should not feel bad if they are not able to do it.

      Oh and another irritating accent was on the soap opera Eastenders where one of the characters was supposed to be from America but her “American” was so bad that they gave up and said that her subsequent “traveling” around Europe lead to her newly adopted “sophisticated” accent.

      Here is another doozie:

  3. I don’t really care about accent unless it’s really obviously messed up. I also don’t really care about whether it’s accurate but it must be consistent throughout the film. So in the case of Anne Hathaway in One Day where it’s extremely obvious even from the trailer that her accent is all over the place, it definitely steers me toward not watching the movie.

  4. Even if QUIZ SHOW hadn’t been an overblown ABC AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL, listening to Rob Morrow’s atrocious attempt at a Bostonian accent would’ve turned me right around. I’ve never heard worse that wasn’t intentional.

    • @Todd – Bostonian Accents are quite tough. But as a New Yorker, one of the most difficult moments for me was hearing Chiwetel Ejiofor’s “NYC accent” in “The Inside Man.” I soon got over it though, but I chuckle inside when I hear it subsequently.

  5. How uncanny! People were just commenting on my post on Gerard Butler’s new movie Machine Gun Preacher. A few people say they hated Butler’s American accent. I gotta admit it’s not the best accent work, but it’s not so bad that it becomes a distraction for me. There are a few other Brits whose American accent aren’t perfect that I also don’t bother me. As for Anne, I knew she can’t pull off British accent when I saw her in Becoming Jane. It was to the point of becoming irritating, so yeah, it definitely affects my enjoyment of said movie. In general though, I cut them some slack.

    • Hi @ruth! I don’t think I even remember how good or bad her accent was in “Becoming Jane.” But like I said earlier, playing around with accents myself I know it is really hard so I guess there is some allowance. But then, at times I am like “don’t even try.”

      In the end it is one of those things that we live with going to the movies ….

  6. I’m not familiar with regions of England so I guess Anne’s inability to take on a Yorkshire accent wouldn’t bother me as long as she sounded English to my ear. Since Ruth mentioned “Becoming Jane”, if James McAvoy had employed his Scottish accent instead of using an English/Irish one (can’t remember if his character was English or Irish), that would have bugged me because I know the character is supposed to be from a different part of Great Britain. However, my biggest accent pet peeve is when actors use an English accent even though they’re supposed to be in another country. “Ever After” is the biggest offender of this. As much as I enjoy watching the film, I’m constantly asking myself, “They’re in France. Why didn’t the actors adopt a French accent?” If the producers/directors wanted everyone to have an English accent, why not change the location to England? I’m usually more lenient about the adoption of an English accent when the film takes place in ancient times because it’s difficult to know how people sounded like. However, Angelina Jolie’s attempt at it in “Alexander” was so laughably bad that it just made the experience of watching it even more hilarious.

    • Hi @Sherry and welcome to i luv cinema!

      Your comment points to the ignorance that is laid at American moviegoers’ feet by the powers that be – British accents are not British as such and more likely categorized as merely “foreign” Go figure.

  7. I hate it when all Scottish actors have to ditch their own accents and speak a general Queen’s in order to “be understood” by American audiences. I’m not sure that’s even why, but I mean in roles set in today’s world where someone Scottish plays let’s say an exec in company does he have to be English? Why does that matter?

    • @Anna I see your point. Shifting to TV for a sec, I am convinced that in the latest series of “Torchwood” that Eve Myles (Gwen) has toned down her Welsh accent a bit.

      A prime example RE: your comment is James McAvoy. I quite like his Scottish accent 🙂 But I think that is because one of my closest mates is Scottish and my ear is used to the accent.

  8. Yeah James McAvoy is a prime example indeed. I just really wouldn’t want to think it’s a English domination thing.

    I mean BBC has divided into BBC Scotland and Wales and England so some of the Scottish tv-shows aren’t even shown in England.

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