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After last week’s pat on the back for those Hollywood stars who’ve got a real ear for the cadences of at least one of the many British dialects, here’s the corresponding roll call of shame. Five actors, fine at the face work, good at the word-retention, and simply awful at the accents.
It should be stated, before we start, that the intention of this feature is not simply to point and giggle. If we don’t weed out the duffers now, before you know it, everyone will be doing this:
Forrest Whitaker – The Crying Game
Everyone always rags on Don Cheadle in Ocean’s 13 for having a weird accent, and rightly so, but his achievement as a salt-of-the-earth London criminal is as naught compared to Forrest’s ham-tongued stab at a British soldier, captured in Northern Ireland. Were it not for the fact that there is another character in the film who starts off as one kind of a thing and ends up revealing themself to be something entirely different, Forrest’s bizarre cod-Britishisms would perhaps stand out a little more. As it is, after the film’s Big Reveal, it’s tempting to wonder if he’s about to tear his skin open, revealing some kind of German chimneysweep beneath.
Anne Hathaway – One Day
I like Anne Hathaway. I think she’s really good at appearing warm and friendly on-screen and she’s got a good grin. The fact that her accent is all over the place in One Day isn’t really a disaster by any means. She essentially comes across as an American who likes to pronounce all of her consonants and has occasionally drunken vowels. Doesn’t spoil the film, but then again, neither would it spoil it if she just WAS American and got all the weirdness out of the way.
Keanu Reeves – Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Posh Brit is the accent all American thespians should be able to master. It’s the same snooty accent that everyone does, think Blythe Danner in The Good Wife or Truman Capote at his most priggish, only bleached of all warmth and friendliness and with consonants you could sculpt marble with. It’s as much a state of mind – aloof, frosty, with a broomstick spine – as it is an accent. Nevertheless, it is not a state of mind that Keanu appears to be able to master. He speaks like a man for whom words are just a list of unrelated noises that you have to remember in order.
Christian Slater – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
The Brits bang on about Dick Van Dyke a lot, but it’s not out of any malice towards the man himself. It’s just that he set an unfortunate precedent for other American actors to follow. That’s the only excuse I can think of for Christian’s honking cockney barrowboy nonsense in Robin Hood. Mind you, he’s caught between the devil and the deep. Surrounded by British character actors giving it the full yokel, and his fellow countryman, Kevin Costner, doesn’t even bother trying. Mind you, there’s a good reason for that. With Alan Rickman rolling his eyes and whooping it up as the evil English Sheriff of Nottingham, Kevin has to be the pure-hearted American hero, otherwise the film looks like the story of a little local trouble in olde Englande. That’s his excuse, anyway.
Christopher Lambert – Highlander
I’ll be honest, Christopher gets the nod over one worse Scots accent – Mel Gibson in Braveheart – and one of equal poorness – Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire – simply because he is surrounded by Scottish actors and STILL can’t get it right. Here he is talking to Sean Connery, a man who can’t do any other accent than Scottish, even when playing an Egyptian called (ahem) Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, and poor Christopher is left with that furrowed brow of concentration and the hope that whatever his next line may be, it is kept mercifully short. Or to put it another way, his Connor (Macleod) could do with being a little more Connery-y.
What’s the worst American accent you’ve heard from a British actor?
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic