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Michael C. Hall stars in the new Netflix crime drama Safe as a widowed father, whose teenage daughter has gone missing from their gated English suburb. Yep, the Dexter star is playing Brit-ish this time around.

Based on a novel by Harlen Coben, Hall stars opposite Sherlock star Amanda Abbington, who plays the lead detective investigating the case.

So far so good. We get the appeal, but some of us, (*cough* guilty!), had to fast forward through Hall’s bits, because his English accent is so, well… off-putting. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the trailer and see if you catch our drift:

On the other hand, Den of Geek found his exaggerated poshness bearable, as there’s less dialogue “once the running around begins.”

Hall isn’t the only American actor whose vocal cords simply aren’t up to task of producing a convincing British twang. While the actors we’ve listed didn’t ruin their film with their voice, some came close — with the exception of One Day, which is actually unwatchable.

We’ve numbered the offending examples from hardest to handle to most forgivable:

1. Anne Hathaway

2011’s One Day has all the makings of an Anglo favorite. It’s a romantic comedy, based in England, starring Jim Sturgess. There’s just one glaring problem: Brooklyn-born Anne Hathaway‘s British accent is way too distracting. The singsongy way her words go up and down is too extreme to be believable, or ignorable for that matter.

In 2016, chat show host James Corden called her out on her accent on his Late Late Show in a session of Drop the Mic, rapping, “This isn’t just for me/It’s for the whole U.K./Mad at your awful British accent in the movie One Day.” It seems she took that as a challenge and in her rebuttal to Corden, she used a very-very thick cockney accent. Well, at least she has a sense of humor about it.

2. Johnny Depp 

Johnny Depp made the role of Captain Jack Sparrow more than memorable in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but his over-the-top accent is almost a character in itself. Compared to the genuinely English actors in the film — Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and Jack Davenport, to name a few — Depp’s character sounds like he’s from another time period. His not-at-all-18th century “cheeky chappy” accent makes us want to put our hands over our ears and scream a hearty piratical “arghhh!” But all that yelling at enemies and barking orders at your crew over the sound crashing waves has got to play havoc with your voice box.

3. Kevin Costner  

Remember when Kevin Costner threw on green tights for 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? And, gave a very heartfelt speech to his Merry Men? But, alas, he forgot to throw on an accent that fit the time and location. The story takes place during the Middle Ages, in Nottingham’s Sherwood Forest. We pick up on bits of a British accent in the speech he gives in the above clip — say, every fifth word — but, it’s not consistent. At all. It sounds very, very much like Kevin Costner, speaking like himself, in the woods. Maybe you found yourself in the same camp as us, cheering for Alan Rickman‘s Sheriff of Nottingham. In 2014, the folks over at AV Club looked back at Prince of Thieves They, correctly, call Costner’s accent “barely existent,” but suggest the audience at the time of release, mostly children, didn’t pick up on it. Oh, we noticed.

4. Natalie Portman 

2005’s V for Vendetta is inspired by the actual Guy Fawkes-led attempt to overthrow England’s King James in 1604. The film is set in a future Britain, ruled by a tyrant. A freedom fighter, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, takes down the unscrupulous leaders. Natalie Portman plays the young woman who becomes his aid. While the story takes place in 2027, Portman sounds very old fashioned — perhaps a little Oliver Twist-esque, i.e., “Please sir, I want some more.” 

But, she was committed, we’ll give her that. Portman implemented method acting, speaking with a British accent even when not filming. But, according to Time magazine, the actor’s mother was not a fan, telling her daughter, “Really, Natalie, enough already. This is crazy.” We couldn’t agree more.

5. Angelina Jolie 

We really don’t want to risk getting on Angelina Jolie‘s bad side. But, if an actor is going to take on a foreign accent for a role, they risk landing up on a list like this. When Jolie starred in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, she had the look down, and was totally believable as the video game star-turned-movie heroine. But, her accent came off as a bit… pretentious and preachy. In a poll run by The Telegraph, her speech pattern was referred to as an “upper class purr.” The same reader commented, “I mean, have you ever met any English people who talk like that?”

In Jolie’s defense, she redeemed herself with the 2014 film Maleficent, where she plays a disenchanted fairy who lives in an enchanted forest. Maybe it was the horns, but we completely forgot her native tongue is actually American-English.

6. John Malkovich 

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) may be set in France, but it seems to encompass a hodgepodge of accents. Jeremy Irons retains his native English accent. Gabriel Byrne, who is Irish, puts on a French accent. And, then there’s John Malkovich. It seems he’s committed the same voice crime as Costner in Robin Hood. Malkovich has a tinge of a British accent, but it’s nowhere near convincing.

You might ask, “Why would he sound British? Or, for that matter, be speaking English. It’s France?!” Well, yes. We’ll give them a break on the language choice, but why default to a British accent? Possibly moviemakers believe it’s more easily understood by a global audience — and perhaps gives the finished feature an air of credibility, particularly if it’s a historical piece. We’re not the only ones picking up on this trend; there has been some pushback, like in this Entertainment Weekly article, “Why is ‘British’ the Only Accent?”

7. Madonna 

In the 1996 film Evita, Madonna plays the real-life First Lady of Argentina, Evita Perón (1919-1952). Hailing from South America, you’d would think Perón would be depicted with an appropriate accent. Nope. While Madonna’s performance was powerful, and the songs beautiful, she occasionally slipped into a British accent. For no reason we can fathom. In the above clip, Madonna gives a speech as Evita, and her voice is pretty flat (American) for the most part, but on words like,”glory,” you can hear a British inflection. To contrast, when actress Elena Roger took the stage in the 2012 Broadway production of Evita, The New York Times described this version as “deeply accented with Spanish,” which seems entirely appropriate.

Madonna must have liked the sound of her own Brit-ish voice, because she retained that elongated way of speaking off-screen. Her publicist at the time, Liz Rosenberg, said the change in Madonna’s accent was a side effect of vocal coaching for Evita, reported Entertainment Weekly back in 2000. Rrrright… 

8. Dick Van Dyke


Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Trailer

We adore Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. But his accent is almost a character of its own. We’re not the first to blast him for his thick cockney pronunciation — and we won’t be the last. It really just wouldn’t be a fake British accent faux pas list if he wasn’t on it. In case you need a reminder, Van Dyke plays a cheerful chimney sweep in the classic film, which premiered in 1964, and stars opposite the practically perfect Julie Andrews. The above clip provides stunning silhouettes of London rooftops. Then, all of a sudden, Van Dyke pops up on screen bellowing, “Alright! Come with me, then.” It can catch you off guard, if you’re not prepared.

Van Dyke is set to star in the 2018 remake of Mary Poppins, starring Emily Blunt as the magical nanny, originally portrayed by Andrews, but in a different role. This time he’ll play Mr. Dawes, Jr., son of the banker in the original film. We have a feeling his take on an English accent has softened over the years.

9. Gwyneth Paltrow 

Gwyneth Paltrow handled her role as a 19th century Englishwoman in 1996’s Emma effortlessly. She also did a fantastic job in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love and 2002’s Possession.

We’re picking up a pattern in her choices in roles… she seems to really like playing it Brit-ish. But, we have to say, her portrayal of a modern-day Londoner in 1998’s Sliding Doors, seemed a bit forced. We love the film, and her acting in it, but her accent is a sore point. It works for the most part, but the rhythm of her speech is slower than it would be in real-life. But, we’ll give her a partial pass. It may simply be that she’s putting extra thought into her words and delivery rather than struggling to wrap her tongue around a British accent.

10. Renée Zellweger

And, finally, we’ll end on a bittersweet note. We loved the Bridget Jones‘s Diary novels when they first came out, with the first debuting in 1996. And the two film adaptations that followed in 2001 and 2004 were great (the less said about the third the better). We don’t have a problem with American actress Renée Zellweger‘s portrayal of the ultimate singleton, but it has been 17 years since the first movie came out. We’ve had time to get used to her accent. In 2016, Zellweger’s former voice coach on the Bridget Jones’s movies relayed a story from the time of filming, saying, “The producers asked me if I thought she could do it or not, and I said, ‘I can’t tell you if she will definitely do it but she has the ability to do it.’ And that’s how it started.” Zellweger put the work in, but we notice a strong emphasis on her “A”s, that could use some pulling back.

But, we’re happy to say… we still love ya, Bridge. In fact, “We like you, very much, just as you are.”

Whose faux Brit-ish accent makes you want to put the scene on mute? 

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Filed Under: British accents
By Brigid Brown