I started to think about the way that accents are portrayed in films after seeing the film Locke (2014) at the cinema quite recently. Locke features Tom Hardy as the main character Ivan Locke who sets on a journey when the mother of his baby goes into labour. It's an interesting concept, original- the entire film taking place on a car journey. What got me thinking was Tom Hardy's choice of accent, Welsh. The accent started off as quite distracting, as I, as an audience member, couldn't quite associate the accent with the actor. Which then got me thinking about actors who have got an ear for accents and those that should just stop even contemplating doing an accent different to their own.
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So, I will look at a couple of actors and the films in which require them to adopt an accent and analyse why I think each one is particularly good or particularly bad:
The Best of the Best:
1) Alan Tudyk in A Knight's Tale (2001)
I remember watching A Knight's Tale and naturally thinking that Alan Tudyk was English, along with his co-stars Paul Bettany and Mark Addy. In fact, it wasn't until I was watching the DVD extras and there was an interview with Alan Tudyk (who plays Wat in the film), that I realised that the actor was American. So convincing was he at his accent that I instantly researched him because I couldn't fathom him being anything but British. It's not that he does a convincing RP accent or cockney accent because every American attempts that accent with not much success. It's the fact that I've never come across an American who could do a more convincing attempt at a natural sounding dialect. Thank God that there are actors out there who take time to realise that English accents don't all stem from London.
2) Robert Downey Jr in Chaplin (1992)
I know, what a surprise eh? But seriously, I would have included Downey even if I wasn't such a fan. Forget Sherlock Holmes, Downey's best go at the English accent is his first attempt. As one of the most famous English filmmakers/movie star, portraying Chaplin must have been an intimidating prospect but here Downey is able to convey everything about the Brit with such ease, it's easy to forget that an American is playing him. A different English accent than the one mentioned above, it is still done with good effect - going from early Chaplin where his accent was more unrefined to right up to the end days of his life, with a more received pronunciation accent. Downey continued to impress with his English accent in Sherlock Holmes, never wavering and pronouncing words with confidence. Most actors neglect to research the differences in American and English accents (e.g. the word 'can't'). Yet, those who know what they're doing when it comes to accents, are spot on with every word.
Hugh Laurie in House (2004): A voice that is easily recognisable anywhere in Britain, it's still a joy that Laurie is able to make audiences forget that he is so English; Meryl Streep in everything she does: From her various characters in Angels in America (2003) to Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2012), her ability to adopt each accent so effortlessly is remarkable.
The Best of the Worst:
1) Gerald Butler in The Bounty Hunter (2010)
I bet you were thinking that I was going to say Dick Van Dyke, right? Well tough, because I fondly regard that accent as some of his best work. Probably because I saw Mary Poppins as a child so didn't know any better. I'm sorry to say I saw The Bounty Hunter at the cinema, where I sat cringing - not only at the storyline but Butler's attempt at an American accent. Where do I start? How about the fact that he kept slipping back into his actual Scottish accent? And then just giving up halfway through? Embarrassing really, especially when British actors are supposed to be impressive when it comes to adopting the American accent. By the end of the film, I was almost covering my ears because the accent was that painful to listen to.
2) Don Cheadle in The Ocean's Trilogies (2001-2007)
Okay, there is no word to describe how bad this accent is. I remember watching the first Ocean film, Ocean's 11 at the cinema, and me and my sister turning to each other going: 'Huh?' 'What's he saying?' If you're not aware (and you probably wouldn't be even if you had watched all of the Ocean films), Cheadle plays, what I assume is, a Cockney. It is so uncomfortable to watch as Cheadle is normally a great actor but to add a complete pointless accent to the character, for what I assume is pure comedy reasons, makes him seem laughable and annoying. Though it's more cringeworthy than funny. When an accent is so bad that it requires an English viewer to use subtitles whilst watching the DVD, you know it's time to stick to your natural accent when there's no requirement to adopt a different dialect.
Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black (1998): I'm thinking about the scene in which Pitt, for some unknown reason (OK, there is a reason but it's silly and I can't be bothered going into it), decides to become Jamaican whilst talking to a dying, Jamaican woman. It is so bad, it's quite insulting; Angelina Jolie in Alexander (2004): Greek is not now, nor has it ever been, Russian; Sean Connery in everything he does: Is it a bad accent when the actor doesn't even bother to try and attempt one? He's Scottish when he's American, Scottish when he's English, Scottish when he's Spanish, and so on - you get the idea.
It seems that the bad accents outweigh the good, meaning most actors cannot be bothered in researching their role, right down to the dialect they speak. Those that do an uncanny accent are rare but when they do manage to pull it off, it's a treat and pleasant surprise for the audience.