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THe Issue of Accents
by Jeff Winston

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You know it's true, Every accent I don't do, I don't do it for you.

You know it's true, Every accent I don't do, I don't do it for you.
I'm sure we have all noticed good and bad accents in film. While I was quite impressed with the English accent Gwyneth Paltrow pulled off in SLIDING DOORS, many people said it was crap. Since a number of them were British, I respected their opinion, even if I didn't agree with it personally. My ignorant Canadian ears apparently don't know the difference. Nearly everyone I know is impressed with Hugh Laurie's American accent on the television show HOUSE, and thought that Emma Thompson also did a great American accent in PRIMARY COLORS.

I could give you a top ten list of the best attempts at accents, and maybe I will do that at a later date, but right now I want to address some of the criticisms of bad accents out there. There are of course just as many bads, as goods, but the bads are more talked about, and usually better for discussion.


I think the number one most recognized gripe about a bad accent, goes to Kevin Costner in ROBIN HOOD PRINCE OF THIEVES. Well, hardly a bad accent, Kevin Costner pulled off a brilliant American accent for a 12th century Brit. People have been holding a grudge about this longer than I have been holding one against George Lucas. While normally the lack of an accent would bother me, there are a number of reasons why this lack of an accent didn't.
1) Costner made the attempt to learn the accent. It was not good. He came to the realization that he just was not going to pull off a convincing British accent so he dropped it.
2) A number of the other accents were uneven/absent too. Christian Slater barely had one at all, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's faltered a number of times.
3) The English accented actors cast in the movie had accents from all around England. There are at least 6 discernable dialects in the film from all over England and are
Pay heem, Pay that meahn heeeees Maaahney!

Pay heem, Pay that meahn heeeees Maaahney!
not truly representative of a population that lived in the same area all of their lives.
4) In the 12th century there were no "English" accents. The Brits were still speaking Middle English at the time, and this language would have sounded much more like German than what we know of as English.

Say what you want to about Costner, many do on a regular basis, but he admitted that he was never going to be able to pull off the accent, so he gave up trying. Better a smooth American accent than a half assed attempt at an English one.


I love John Malkovich. I even loved him in CON AIR, even though many did not. God love him, but if he ever attempts a Russian accent again, I think that I may want to kill the man.

As Teddy KGB in ROUNDERS, Malkovich is supposed to be a feared loan shark. Yet, it was next to impossible to fear him when you heard him, as the accent was as funny as the quips he kept giving to Matt Damon for most of his scenes. I asked my Russian buddy if he thought the accent was good, and he said that it was not good by a long ways. Cool to have the backing of an authentic Russkie, but I would have thought the accent was bad without independent validation anyway, much like with Paltrow's accent.

Tom Cruise in FAR AND AWAY

Tom, you should take a page out of Costner's book. When you suck at the accent, perhaps you shouldn't do it. Of course that would have made for a very uneven performance in the film when your wife can pull off a decent one. Your American accent would have been as out of place as your Irish in this drama, however, at least most of us can stand your American accent and wouldn't cringe at it for the two plus hours we had to endure your Irish. It was funny when you broke into Irish in COCKTAIL for all of two seconds, but two hours was pushing
Were you the guy you beat in the head in the film? You sure sound like him!

Were you the guy you beat in the head in the film? You sure sound like him!

Don't worry about to much though; Brad Pitt, Lea Thompson, and Richard Gere also destroyed the accent in THE DEVIL'S OWN, BACK TO THE FUTURE III and THE JACKAL, respectively.

Tim Robbins in MYSTIC RIVER

I had no idea that people from Boston sounded like a three year old with a speech impediment. I was waiting for a special bus to pick him up in the film. His talking was so forced, slow and painful. The ironic part is that all of these things were good for his character development, but not when they are being used to just maintain his accent. You could almost see him thinking about how to maintain the accent for the scene, and the concentration is what made it suck.

The Final accent issue - WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN FRANCE?!

I will use a few different movies to prove my point.
1) Ever After
2) Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
3) Man in the Iron Mask
4) The Three Musketeers

Now perhaps this is a crazy thing to think, but don't French people live in France? Why does nearly every main character in these four films speak with English accents, including the monarchs? I mean at least MAN IN THE IRON MASK hired Gerard Depardieu as Porthos, but the other three were completely devoid of a French accent at all.

I understand that when trying to hire for a French accent your choices are limited to Depardieu, Jean Reno and Sophie Marceau, but for God's sake, come to Canada and hire some French Canadians. Watching all these "Frenchmen" speak in English accents is just copping out and saying that one accent is as good as the next, and that if you can't get French, that English is just as good. I am sorry but when I watch EVER AFTER, and the THREE MUSKATEERS, and the royal families in both are British, that is too much to swallow. Second only to casting Napoleon Bonaparte, as an
Aye Lad!!!!!! I mean........... Da Captain.

Aye Lad!!!!!! I mean........... Da Captain.

Would I have preferred an English accent in Robin Hood? Sure, but only because everyone's interpretation of the tale calls for it, including mine. When I realized that even a British accent would be wrong it didn't bug me quite as much. But, an American accent in a British setting that is explained away is not the same thing as every main character in France speaking with a noticeably English accent with no explanation of any kind.

I understand that many accents are hard to pull off at all, let alone pull off convincingly. This is why in most cases I forgive accent cock ups. In most cases I enjoy the movies despite them. I love all four of the films set in France, but the accent thing bothered me. I loved THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, Although, I was more than a little disappointed by a Russian commander with such a strong Scottish accent. I loved SCHINDLER'S LIST despite the fact that the German hero was clearly speaking in his usual Irish tongue, I even liked the PATRIOT where half the kids spoke with a British accent, the other half with American accents and Gabriel spoke with an Australian. However that one is largely unnoticed since English and Australian sound quite similar to an untrained ear.

The reality of Hollywood is that there a huge number of American, Brits, Spaniards and a couple decent Australians, Scots and Irishmen. The accents are always going to be an issue when you place a film in France, Russia, Germany etc. However, if I am going to shell out 30 bucks for a movie and a popcorn combo, some of these actors can work their asses off with their dialect coach and do their best to at least TRY and put on the accent to earn their 10 million dollar paycheck. Is that too much to ask?

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Mouthing Off
Every other Thursday

Mouthing Off is the no bull, tell it like it is column on various issues in the Hollywood arena. You want PC, then keep on moving, you won't get it here.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jeff Winston:

The Money Pitt

Movies of South Korea

I Vant to Suck your Blud

Aren't Getting Their Due

Finally Getting Their Due - Underrated Actors

All Columns

Jeff Winston
I am a part time writer and full time teacher. I am currently stationed in the middle of nowhere, northern Alberta, Canada. I love movies, and I love to vent, I am happy to have an outlet to incorporate both here on Matchflick.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jeff Winston by clicking here.

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